Go to contents


Westerners’ view on sunken ferry Sewol

Posted April. 21, 2014 05:22,   


I first heard the tragic news on the sinking of Korean ferry Sewol in a hotel room as I was visiting Rhode Island in the U.S. on business. On April 15 (local time), as soon as learning the news that the ship carrying a number of high school students sank, I ran down to the hotel lobby where several American guests were watching the breaking news from CNN. A middle-aged woman was in sorrow leaning against her husband as if her own children were on that ship.

U.S. media has been covering the sinking of Sewol as major international news. The New York Times put a close-up of a crying old lady who lost her family at the sinking on the first page of its Saturday issue. CNN has been broadcasting live the rescue and search efforts in Jindo, Korea where the accident occurred all day, along with the news on the missing Malaysian airplane (MH370) and Ukraine issues.

Regarding the arrest of 69-year-old Sewol Captain Lee Joon-seok and three other crewmen who abandoned the passengers and escaped from the ship, the western media including the U.S. media have two perspectives. Firstly, they see this accident based on the principle that adolescents should be protected by adults and adults should protect adolescents. Secondly, people see the act of crewmen as a typical wrongdoing that could usually happen in an underdeveloped country because the captain and crewmen did not fulfill their roles required by the international law.

Michael Kirby, the chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, expressed his condolences over the sinking of the ferry Sewol when he participated in a closed meeting on North Korean human rights issues in the UN headquarters in New York last Thursday. According to the participants, the chairman said that he hopes his work is of some help in building a peaceful world that the students who are still missing or lost their lives at the accident had dreamed of.

CNN news anchors emphasized the fact that the crewmen had told students to “stay in place” and escaped from the ship by themselves. They contrasted the act of Sewol captain and crewmen with that of Captain Edward Smith and other crewmen of British ferry Titanic who evacuated the passengers first and were submerged with the ship at the end, and compared them to the disgraced captain of Italian ferry Costa Concordia who fled from the sinking ship and passengers behind in 2012.

Experts of maritime law said in unison on TV that the captain and crewmen violated their obligation to protect passengers. They pointed out that the captain and crewmen of Sewol had failed to fulfill their responsibility of taking sufficient training for emergencies and protecting passengers by using proper equipment, citing international conventions such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. Most of all, Americans stress adolescents’ right to be protected and strongly demand those who violate commitments or contracts count the cost.

It seems clear that to Americans, this accident is not something that can or should happen in “advanced Korea,” which has joined the ranks of economic powerhouses. Korean Americans concern that the accident may tarnish the good images of Korea within the United States that have been made through the Korean Wave driven by Korean singer Psy and Korean President Park Geun-hye’s audacious North Korea policy represented by her so-called “reunification bonanza initiative.”

In addition, with the inabilities and mistakes found in the rescue process, the accident is serving as a test bed to evaluate the overall level of Korea as a nation. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 18 that Korea’s risk management ability is put to the test. It is time for all people to join efforts to do the utmost in rescuing passengers and to prevent the recurrence of such a tragic accident.