[Editorial] Sewol salvage

By Korea Herald

Civic groups, parties should join efforts to improve safety systems

  • Published : Mar 23, 2017 - 17:19
  • Updated : Mar 23, 2017 - 17:19
The Sewol ferry, which sank April 16, 2014, was lifted above the surface of the water from the seabed Thursday.

It came 1,073 days after the ship capsized with 476 people aboard. Of that number, 304 -- mostly high school students on a field trip -- died, with nine bodies still unaccounted for and believed to be inside the ship.

The government decided to recover the ferry in April 2015. It chose a firm to carry out the salvage operation, laid the groundwork for lifting the ship and made the first attempt in April 2016 -- only for it to fail. The operation has undergone difficulties due to bad weather and high waves.

The ship is to be placed on a semisubmersible vessel, which will carry it to Mokpo to place it on land as early as April 4. The process will hopefully go without a hitch.

Meanwhile, there have been rising calls for the recreation of a truth commission on the ferry sinking. A committee to investigate the accident was disbanded by the Park Geun-hye government on Sept. 30 last year. Its investigation ended with many issues unresolved regarding the government’s sloppy initial response, the presidential office’s pressure against prosecutors investigating the incident and what Park did for seven hours after receiving the first report on the accident. The former members of the panel had demanded an extension of the probe.

Further investigation to get to the bottom of the matter is needed to prevent a recurrence of tragedies and create better safety systems. The problems revealed in the Sewol accident could happen again if they are swept under the rug.

However, the investigation should be kept neutral. Certain groups or political parties should not try to influence it because doing so might distort its findings and safety efforts would end up going nowhere.

A full recovery and thorough probe of the ferry’s hull would be the right step to clear doubts about the cause of the accident and remove doubts and conflicts.

Arguments about former President Park’s legal culpability for the incident have been made moot by the court’s lucid opinion. The court said Park should have acted faithfully to minimize the damage of the accident, but it did not consider her initial response to the accident as grounds for impeachment. It held Park morally accountable, so now is the time to end controversies and begin soul searching.

What’s worrisome, though, is that Sewol is being salvaged in the middle of a presidential campaign. No attempts to take political advantage of it should be made. Civic groups and politicians should not try to instigate victims’ families for their political benefit. The probe of the ship should be kept neutral, as partisanship and ideologies should have no place in efforts to build a safe country. Everyone should be united to raise the awareness of safety and improve related systems.

The Sewol salvage operation should serve not only as a key to clarify the cause of the mishap but also to improve the nation’s safety systems.

The incident was a man-made disaster caused by poor safety precautions, with the government failing to do what it was supposed to do.

After the accident, the government set up a control tower, rewrote response manuals and increased its budget. It drew up a master plan for safety, checked safety facilities nationwide and promised to improve safety and disaster management systems.

Nearly three years have passed since the Sewol sank, but little has changed. Accidents big and small have persisted, such as the deadly collapse of a ventilation grid at a pop concert, a 106-car pileup on a bridge and a freeze of the Ministry of Public Safety and Security homepage when an earthquake hit Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province. Few people feel safer now than before the ferry incident.

A mature society should analyze an accident calmly and keep up efforts to upgrade its safety systems. Sewol should serve as a reminder of the country’s insensitivity to safety issues.