Asia

South Korea ferry: Press furious at crew, government

  • 21 April 2014
  • From the section Asia
South Korean newspaper front pages
Some South Korean newspapers questioned the country's safety record

With images of grief and loss still dominating South Korean coverage of the ferry sinking, there is growing anger and soul-searching in the press about what caused the disaster.

Many papers are focusing on how the disaster and the loss of the bereaved has united Koreans.

Among them is Dong A Ilbo, which says that as parents "have to live on thinking about their children who will never come back home, all Koreans are shedding tears with them".

The English-language Korea Herald daily says a "mixture of sorrow, anger and desperation prevails", and that many central and local governments have postponed meetings and public events.

But set against the mood of mourning, anger over the causes of the sinking is gradually coming to the fore.

Korea Herald quotes Oh Mi-jin, a 37-year-old mother as saying she believes ferry operators and maritime authorities could have responded much better in the initial moments after the accident.

'Beyond belief'

Several papers vent their fury at reports that the captain and crew of the Sewol left the stricken vessel before all passengers had been rescued.

"The thoughtless and cold move by the captain and crew is beyond belief and pardon," the JoongAng Daily says in an editorial.

It adds that criminal penalties for negligence are too light, and must be toughened in order to "place human lives as a top priority".

There is also growing anger at the authorities' handling of the situation.

A weeping relative of a missing passenger aboard the sunken ferry Sewol tries to march toward the presidential house to protest the governments rescue operation in Jindo, South Korea
Relatives of missing passengers protested near the presidential house in Jindo, South Korea

The daily Hankyoreh says the disaster has revealed the "comprehensive failure of the government's national crisis management capabilities".

It says relatives of the victims had been infuriated by the poor handling of communications and the confusion of the search and rescue effort, and even by reports that the authorities were using detectives to snoop on the families of the bereaved.

"It is embarrassing to even call it a government. What kind of country is this?" the paper concludes

'Third-rate'

Citing reports that the Sewol's captain had left his third officer in charge of the ship when it sank, The Korea Times says President Park Geun-hye must herself act to "dispel humiliating jeers that the nation itself might be at the hands of a third officer".

The paper is also one of several that say there is a growing feeling that South Korea has neglected safety and protecting lives in favour of an obsession with growth at all costs.

Members of a Christian group pray for missing passengers who were on the South Korean ferry Sewol in Jindo
Many South Koreans are sympathising with the families of the victims

"Korea, a self-styled 'advanced nation', is actually an underdeveloped country as far as its ability - and willingness - to maintain basic principles and follow established laws," it says.

"It may be a first-rate country in terms of economic growth, but it is a third-rate one when it comes to the ability to protect its citizens from danger and keep them safe," The Korea Times says.

Chosun Ilbo agrees. Quoting reports that too much cargo may have had been loaded on the ferry and poorly secured, it says the sinking is only the latest in a string of major accidents resulting from a "lack of respect for basic safety regulations".

"In Korea, people who insist on abiding by basic rules are often considered annoying or inflexible, while those who are adept at dodging them are seen as smart," it says.

"But the country is full of such smart people, and the result has been catastrophic."

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