News / Asia

    S. Korea Accident Casts Spotlight on Global Ferry Safety

    Maritime police search for missing passengers in front of the South Korean ferry "Sewol" which sank at the sea off Jindo, Apr. 16, 2014.
    Maritime police search for missing passengers in front of the South Korean ferry "Sewol" which sank at the sea off Jindo, Apr. 16, 2014.
    Cecily Hilleary
    The recent ferry accident in South Korea has focused renewed attention on the safety of the vessels, which transport 2 billion passengers, 250 million vehicles and 32 million trailers across the globe each year.

    While ferries are among the safest forms of transportation in the United States and Europe, they have caused thousands of deaths in the developing world.
     
    In places such as Bangladesh, with its more than 250 waterways, ferries are a major and cost-efficient means of transport.
     
    FILE - An overcrowded ferry plies the Buriganga river in Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 2002.FILE - An overcrowded ferry plies the Buriganga river in Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 2002.
    x
    FILE - An overcrowded ferry plies the Buriganga river in Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 2002.
    FILE - An overcrowded ferry plies the Buriganga river in Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 2002.
    They are also notoriously dangerous. Between April 2003 and July 2003 alone, more than 1,200 Bangladeshis died in six separate ferry incidents. Those figures are only estimates, because ferries are often overcrowded and passenger lists are rarely kept.

    At least 800 to 1,000 people die every year in ferry accidents, Roberta Weisbrod, executive director of the Worldwide Ferry Safety Association, told VOA.

    “And these numbers represent only the victims whose bodies are found, not the missing, so the numbers of deaths could actually be much higher,” she said.

    Causes of ferry accidents

    Debate is raging over what could have caused the ferry Sewol to capsize April 16 with 476 passengers and crew onboard, including at least 300 high school students on a field trip.

    As of late Friday, the number of confirmed deaths reached 183, with a 119 reported missing.

    The official death toll had reached 157 as of Wednesday, with more than 150 people still missing.

    The ferry association, in partnership with Interferry, an organization representing the global ferry industry, has collected data and documented shipping accidents across the globe since 2000. She concluded that most ferry accidents have at least one of four causes:

    “One, the vessels themselves are often old or inappropriate,” Weisbrod said. “Two, overcrowding. Three, sudden hazardous weather. And finally, the human factor — an inadequately trained crew.”

    Reports suggest that the Sewol accident may have resulted from a “perfect storm” of factors: An inexperienced third mate was steering the craft in treacherous waters at high speed.

    Cash-strapped ship owners might have overloaded the passenger ferry with cargo, which might have if the vessel was steered sharply. That, in turn, might have caused the vessel to list dangerously to one side.

    At least one report, by Korea’s Arirang TV, suggests the ferry’s tracking system may have blacked out for a time.

    The Sewol was manufactured in Japan in 1994 and purchased by South Korea’s Chonghaejin Marine Co. 2012.  Its new owners subsequently renovated the ferry, adding another deck to accommodate more passengers.

    This increased the vessel’s weight by 239 tons – enough, according to one report, to shift the Sewol’s center of gravity and throw it off balance.
     
    The same report says the ferry passed inspection in February.

    Regulation compliance spotty

    The International Maritime Organization (IMO), created in 1948, is the specialized United Nations agency that oversees shipping safety and efficiency by setting standards, including those for vessels’ design, construction, equipment and staffing.

    But these standards only apply to vessels trading or operating between countries, not national shipping or ferry operations.

    While many countries apply IMO conventions to their domestic operations, some lack the resources to enforce regulations and others simply ignore them.

    The results can be devastating.

    In February 2006, more than 1,000 died when the Egyptian ferry al-Salam Boccaccio 98, carrying more than 1,400 religious pilgrims and crew from Saudi Arabia to Egypt, caught fire and sank in the Red Sea.

    “There was a fire on one of the car decks,” Charles Cushing, adjunct professor at the World Maritime University and expert in marine safety, told VOA. “And so the crew went in and just began to pump seawater into that deck, far more water than it could hold.”

    Cushing said the captain called the ferry’s owners and asked whether he should continue toward to Egypt or turn back to the Saudi port of Duba, where the voyage had originated. 

    “The owners said, ‘Keep going, don’t turn back, you can make it,’” Cushing said.  “Eventually, the captain turned to go back and when he did so, all that water ran to one side and the ship rolled over.”

    Investigators later determined that the ferry had not met minimum safety standards and that maritime safety authorities allowed it to sail anyway.

    “Most maritime-developed countries are rather responsible about carrying out investigations into ferry accidents and do so promptly,” Cushing said. “But others — and I won’t name names here — start investigations but never seem to finish them.

    "And others never bother to investigate at all and simply sweep these accidents under the rug,” Cushing said.

    Efforts to improve ferry safety

    Interferry is working with IMO and developing countries to improve ferry safety. So far, the two groups have brought together safety officials to share best practices.

    In Bangladesh, they sponsored a second annual ferry design competition and tested a training course designed for ferry crews, which is now available online.

    IMO also led the planning and staging of two forums on ferry safety in Indonesia, the Pacific Region and China. Another is planned for Africa.

    Weisbrod said the organizations are exploring whether electronic media — interactive games, CDs, even cellphone or iPad applications — could help educate crew members in better safety practices.

    You May Like

    Video Somali, AU Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    Somalia’s Western backers frustrated over country’s slow progress in establishing its armed forces to bring security after 25 years of chaos

    Israel Makes Push for Gaza Strip Recovery

    After years of economic blockade and attempts to disable Hamas, Israeli leaders eventually realized that Hamas’ downfall could lead to chaos or the rise of a more radical Jihadist group

    Slump in Chinese Tourists Hitting Hong Kong Retail

    Mainland Chinese account for up to three-quarters of visitors to Hong Kong, but that number is falling, and shopping centers are struggling to 'shift gears' and maintain sales

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shababi
    X
    Henry Ridgwell
    April 28, 2016 4:20 PM
    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Town Receives Refugees but Lacks Resources

    A wave of refugees is pouring into the Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria as a result of fighting between rebel forces and Islamic State militants. VOA’s Amina Misto went to the town and reports local authorities are finding it difficult to cope with this influx of internally displaced people. Bronwyn Benito narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Build Human Tissue on Animal Matrix

    The question has always been, if a gecko can grow back its tail, why can't we regenerate our lost body parts? Well, maybe we can, someday. Scientists are moving towards the ability to rebuild fully functioning organs, and have made significant progress replacing muscles and other tissue.
    Video

    Video Containing Chernobyl Radiation Continues 30 Years After Explosion

    April 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Hundreds were killed following the explosion and it's estimated that thousands more have died from cancers caused by the radiation. Henry Ridgwell traveled to Chernobyl and reports for VOA on the continuing efforts to decommission the site -- and on the fledgling plans for a new future in the vast exclusion zone.
    Video

    Video Frustration Builds Among Refugees Trapped at Macedonian Border

    On the Greek border with Macedonia, 12,000 refugees continue to wait. Since the route to the rest of Europe was closed last month, the makeshift camp at Idomeni has seen protests and tear gas. But while those here wait, their frustration grows — as do reports of people attempting to find new ways of continuing their journey. John Owens reports from Idomeni.
    Video

    Video Researchers: Bees Help Kenyan Farmers Fend Off Elephants

    Elephant crop-raiding continues to be a major source of human-wildlife conflict in Kenya, so one elephant researcher is helping to alleviate the problem near Tsavo East National Park with beehive fences, which use elephants’ natural aversion to bees to deter them from farms. VOA’s Jill Craig visited the area ahead of this month's Giants Club Summit, which will bring together dignitaries at Mount Kenya to find solutions to combat poaching, the No. 1 threat to elephants.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora