South Korea takes safety step to recognise ferries as public transport

The sunken ferry Sewol on a semi-submersible transport vessel during the salvage operation in waters off Jindo, South Korea. Credit: KOREAN MINISTRY OF OCEANS AND FISHERIES

Domestic ferries have been recognised as a mode of public transport in South Korea, as part of ongoing measures to make passenger ships safer.

This comes after the Act on Promotion of Public Transportation was amended to ratify domestic ferries as a mode of public transport, while ferry terminals have also been recognised as public transportation facilities. The legal changes, proposed by lawmaker Yoon Young-il in September 2018, means that the government will have more freedom to use public funds to replace ageing vessels, instead of leaving this solely to the vessel owners.

Ferry safety has been in the spotlight since the 2014 sinking of Sewol ferry, and ferries are often used by South Koreans to commute between the mainland and various islands, especially Jeju, a popular resort island.

Particularly, ferries are the only means for island residents to get to the mainland. However, with many ferry owners cutting costs by using old vessels, this presents safety risks to residents.

Korea Shipping Association, a local trade body representing owners of ferries and coastal vessels, praised the amendment to the law. Its chairman, Im Byung-kyu, said, “Going forward, this means that the national government can support the improvement of ferry transportation.”