Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ask why; a mere obedience or obeisance is not the answer

A most recent tragedy of the Korean ferry Sewol has left unforgettable scars on the minds and souls of Korean people, which won't go away easily or any time soon. This seems an unprecedented case for a total failure of the government and private sectors. More than 470 passengers were on board and most of them were high school students at their teens for their school trip to a remote southern island Jeju. Only 174 passengers exited the boat and were saved. All others were confirmed dead or still missing. Sadly, all things worked together (negatively) to get things worst ever. First of all, this ferry company called Chungjin Haewoon violated several laws and regulations about safety codes (overloading containers and cargo, adding more space by rebuilding the boat, not providing adequate safety training for its crew members, ignoring boat repair requests from its staff, hiring a temporary captain to run the boat on the day, and etc). It is so shameful to hear all these ugly things about the company and its greedy owner as well as other interest groups.

Second, there were no immediate, organized responses of the government to this disaster. Sea police for example was so senseless that it did not know what to do. It could save a lot of them if they acted fast enough. There were no adequate manual and saving equipment or personnel. Even emergency control or watch in the sea failed completely.

Third, the crew members (except for service crew such as Park Ji-Young and another man who did not escape the boat but saved other passengers at the risk of their lives) left the boat for their lives without doing anything to evacuate hundreds of passengers, who were told by the boat broadcasting to stay calm in their place. There is a suspicion that the ferry company may have ordered its crew members (captain and others) to sink the boat with passengers inside, in which case she could receive lots of insurance money along with life insurance compensation. This must be investigated. Otherwise, some suggest that the behavior of the crew members are hardly explainable, because they had to time to issue an emergency sign before they left the boat.

Actually, if passengers had been told to come out with jackets worn and move to the deck of the boat, they could have been saved. Because of this broadcasting, many students waited in their cabins or rooms even though the boat began to sink. They simply believed in the announcement that says "stay where you are." Even at this dire moment our students had a chat and took pictures and looked very playful. They were acting like they were dying, leaving a few words to their parents. They seemed unaware of their impending deaths. In this dangerous time they believed that they would be saved because they trusted in the repeated announcement that they stay where they are.

At several points when they heard this same announcement, they said "yes." One student in the room of the boat video-recorded all of this, using his smartphone. This student who took pictures and recorded was found dead and his body was recovered with his smartphone. His father recovered his son's smartphone memory chip and sent it to the news agency. That is how I saw the video and pictures taken at the very moment they got stuck inside. What a painful video this is! Before the ferry was completely submerged, as this video indicates, they had been alive and waited in the boat to be rescued. This makes me utterly sad. These students were too good and followed what they heard: "stay in."

In Korean society obeisance is highly emphasized, and so some students didn't seem to learn to disagree to or disobey certain things. At a critical time such as that, students may have had to ask: "Why should we stay inside when the boat began to sink? Why should we believe what you said?" I know this seems not easy. Mere obedience can be horrible otherwise. If obeisance is a virtue, so is suspicion.
*For more, see the previous posting on this tragedy.