I’m not writing this because I want to be a journalist, I’m just writing it down so I can remember when this happened.
A ferry called the Sewol was carrying passengers, mostly high school students, to Jeju Island and it somehow capsized on April 16th. The last count I saw, about seven days after the incident as of now, was 174 rescued and 302 either confirmed dead or missing out of 476 total passengers. 325 of the 476 were high school students. Two of the big items in the news cycle have been how the captain and crew were among the first to abandon ship after instructing everyone to stay in their rooms (wtf), and the shockingly incompetent response of the Korean government when the news broke. A lot of people probably could have been saved but weren’t and now, of course, fingers are being pointed.
I hate to admit this, but I’m really not shocked by the death toll which could have (should have) been much lower. For some hard-to-explain reason, it just seems so… “Korea”. I vaguely remember the 2003 Daegu subway fire (arson) that killed nearly 200 people where the conductor of one of the trains involved grabbed the master key and ran for his life. Weird coincidence that the Sewol captain did basically the same thing. The subway trains in Daegu were also ill-equipped for fire emergencies; apparently there weren’t any fire extinguishers onboard. The good news is that subway trains and buses now appear to be equipped for fires and, starting now, Korean passenger boats will probably be a lot safer as well. Are two similar but unrelated disasters enough to conclude that Korea is a place where the norm is reaction, not prevention? I dunno but, yeah probably.
For those interested, this Seoul National University professor sums up the Sewol disaster pretty well in an honest and heartbreaking essay.