The Maritime Ministry said Tuesday it would ban any remodeling of ships that could jeopardize their safety, the first concrete reform taken by the government in response to the tragic sinking of a passenger ferry in April that left more than 300 people dead or missing.
The government will limit the maximum age of passenger ferries to 20 years and allow an extension of a maximum five years, with intensive safety inspections every year, Minister of Oceans and Fisheries Lee Ju-young said.
“In addition, the government will completely prohibit any remodeling of passenger ships that could undermine the ship’s ability to regain balance while thoroughly and systematically maintaining a close watch on changes to ships by introducing a new records system,” he said.
The measures follow the sinking of the 6,825-ton Sewol in April that left 304 people dead or missing.
Many factors have been blamed as the cause of the sinking, one of the country’s deadliest peacetime disasters, including the reckless addition of decks to increase the ship’s passenger capacity.
“There had been a failure in ensuring the safety of the ship due to a lack of adequate supervision of reckless remodeling, especially amid a rise in the use of aged, used vessels,” the minister told a press briefing.
Sewol was imported from Japan in 2012 after over 18 years of use there. It was originally built in 1994.
The government “will maintain a zero tolerance approach toward any violation of safety regulations while also significantly intensifying penalties,” Lee said.
He suggested that the government may seek public management of some passenger ferry services, noting that 26 out of 99 passenger sea routes run by private operators are making losses.
“Most of all, the government will actively seek to reform and improve the operation of domestic passenger ships, which could include the introduction of public transportation services on routes that are unable to generate a meaningful income but are necessary for the livelihoods of the people who use them,” the minister said.
The new safety measures, approved at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, are subject to parliamentary reviews while many also require revisions to related laws. (Yonhap)