Editorial Notes

Disregard for safety and rescue procedures cost lives: The Korea Herald

Rescue workers search for the missing off Chuja Island, north of South Korea's biggest island of Jeju on Sept 7, 2015.
Rescue workers search for the missing off Chuja Island, north of South Korea's biggest island of Jeju on Sept 7, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

The latest boat accident in South Korea is yet another reminder that we are not doing enough to stay safe, The Korea Herald

What started out as a weekend fishing trip ended in a tragedy when a small boat carrying some 21 passengers capsized on Saturday evening (Sept 5) near Jejudo island. Only three have survived, with 10 bodies recovered so far.

The lack of safety precautions and the Coast Guard's inability to rescue passengers bear eerie similarity to the Sewol ferry disaster that claimed more than 300 lives.

The latest accident showed that we have learnt very little from the disaster more than a year ago, which resulted in the reorganisation of the Coast Guard and the creation of the Ministry of Public Safety and Security, along with numerous pledges to make safety a priority.

The captain of the Dolgorae was in phone contact with the captain of Dolgorae I at around 7.40 pm when the call ended abruptly in bad weather. The Dolgorae I captain notified the nearby safety centre at 8.40 pm, after returning to harbour. The center, instead of immediately reporting the problem to the Coast Guard as is required, wasted 23 minutes trying to contact passengers on their cell phones to determine if the boat was in distress.

The Coast Guard dispatched a vessel two minutes after receiving report, more than two hours after the boat was thought to have capsized.

The Coast Guard vessel that set off was not properly equipped to handle a night-time rescue mission. According to the survivors, the vessel just passed them by, apparently not having spotted the upturned boat and the people hanging on to it for life. In the end, it was a couple in another fishing boat who spotted the survivors and rescued them early Sunday morning. The survivors say that there were initially several others who eventually gave in to exhaustion and fell into the sea.

Most of the passengers were apparently not wearing life vests because they were wet from the rain. As was the case with the Sewol, the boat did not have an accurate passenger list.

Koreans suffer from a sense of "exceptionalism" when it comes to safety - it cannot happen to me, goes the thinking.

Everyone should be responsible for their own safety and the government must ensure that all the safety laws and measures are strictly adhered to. The latest boat accident is another reminder that we are not doing a good job of staying safe.

The Korea Herald is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers.