Tuesday, April 22, 2014

South Korea: Update--Confirmed Deaths for Ferry Sinking Reaches 104, Numbers May Rise Dramatically

According to Reuters, as of Tuesday (April 22), confirmed fatalities from the sinking of the Sewol reached 104, with 200 missing who tragically are presumed to have drowned.

This mass-casualty heartbreaking account still awaits many families of those still missing from the submerged ferry Sewol. Families who once dreamed of miraculous rescues now simply hope their loved ones' remains are recovered soon, before the ocean does much more damage.

An estimated 250 of the more than 300 missing or dead were students from a high school in Ansan, near Seoul, who were on their way to the southern tourist island of Jeju.

At a Cabinet briefing Monday, President Park Geun-hye, 62, said, "What the captain and part of the crew did is unfathomable from the viewpoint of common sense. Unforgivable, murderous behavior." The comments were posted online by the presidential Blue House.

A transcript of ship-to-shore communications released Sunday (April 20) revealed that the vessel was crippled with indecision.

COMMENT: Maritime experts have consistently said that Captain Lee Joon-seok, 69, could have ordered passengers to the ferry's deck without ordering that they abandon ship, where the passengers would have had a much greater chance of survival.

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, President Park Geun-hye herself bears some responsibility in the loss of life in the sinking of  the SEWOL, considering her failure to exercise leadership in ordering assets nationwide to join in the life-saving effort.

President Park should have been on-scene the day the SEWOL sank and used all of the country's resources to save lives. Instead, she met protesters as she went to the gym. 

Having served in South Korea as a Senior Regional Security Officer, and particularly in nations where subordinates wait far too long to act in the absence of senior leadership taking charge, President Park should have met with her cabinet in emergency session to mandate that the nation's resources pull together.

Another facet that few analysts have raised is Captain Lee's age.  He clearly was far too old to be responsible for so many souls, most of whom have now been claimed by the sea.

It remains unclear as to why the ship turned came about shortly before it sank. The third mate, who has been arrested along with the captain and others, was piloting the vessel at the time in high-risk waters that she had never maneuvered before. The captain was in his cabin at the time.

The third mate has been identified as Park Han-gyeol.