Seoul appoints ferry safety supervisors

The Sewol passenger ferry is raised from the bottom of the sea off the coast of Jindo, South Korea. Credit: Yonhap/Reuters

South Korea continues to build on its efforts to improve ferry safety after the 2014 tragedy of the Sewol ferry.

Fifteen people have been appointed as ferry safety inspectors for the third year running and these comprise 12 newcomers in 2020 and three candidates who were selected to return after a good performance in 2019.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF) said that since it launched the Passenger Ship Safety Inspectorate in 2018, more than 100 risk factors have been identified by the appointed inspectors.

The 12 newcomers come from diverse backgrounds, with some holding jobs in the fishing industry and the construction sector, and others already being water safety instructors. The appointees also include retirees who used to work in the oceans and fisheries sector.

The inspectors are tasked to check on ferries and passenger ships to ensure that safety management is in place and to inform the government of any deficiencies.

Sewol capsized during a routine trip from Incheon to Jeju on 16 April 2014, leaving 314 people dead or missing, many of them high school students who were on an excursion. Investigations showed that the ferry was habitually overloaded, and it capsized after making a sudden and sharp turn.

Sewol captain Lee Joon-seok, who escaped from the listing vessel after instructing the passengers to stay in their cabins, was jailed for life for manslaughter. Fourteen other crew members were jailed between 18 months and 12 years.

In a sign that the government is taking ferry safety seriously, the inspectors and other government agencies will jointly carry out inspections before the holiday season and school vacations, as these are the peak periods for ferry rides.

The MOF’s director of maritime logistics, Kim Joon-seok, said: “We expect that the management of safety of passenger ships will be more thorough, and the people can feel safe and comfortable on such vessels.”