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South Korean Children Learn Water Safety Following Ferry Disaster

  • Jason Strother
  • Malte Kollenberg

South Koreans are paying more attention to water safety since the deadly sinking of the Sewol ferry earlier this year. About 300 passengers, mostly high school children, died when the boat capsized. Some advocates now want kids to know how to swim more safely and save lives.

Kim Ji-hoon said he already knows how to swim pretty well. But the 9-year-old elementary school student recently learned some new skills in the water.

“I learned how to save a friend if he is drowning. I would throw him a rescue tube and then pull him back in with a rope,” he said.

Kim was among 160 students from Goyang city who participated on the first day of a safety program called Swim 2 Survive. In addition to saving stranded swimmers, they learned how to put on life jackets and perform CPR.

Goyang’s mayor, Choi Sung, said children need to know these skills. “Since the sinking of the Sewol ferry safety has become more important.”

Safety standards

Following the Sewol ferry disaster, there has been a reevaluation of water safety standards in South Korea. Investigators blamed the accident and its high death toll on numerous safety lapses by the ship’s crew, its operator and the coast guard.

The government says it now wants more children to know how to swim. Some advocates say that lessons need to go beyond the basics, though, in order to save lives in the water.

Shin Eun-ho, one of the organizers of the Swim 2 Survive program in Goyang, said, “If more of the students on the Sewol knew how to safely jump into the water, float and keep their bodies warm, I think there could have been more survivors.”

Swim 2 Survive student Kim said he is not afraid of the water. “If I was on a sinking ship, I know how to escape it now,” he said.

Hopefully that is a skill that none of these children will ever have to use.

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