The tragic sinking of the Sewol off the coast of South Korea left the victims’ families with extraordinary scars, as most of the victims in this catastrophe were high school students on a school trip. After an investigation, it was discovered that the captain ordered the passengers to stay “inside” while the ship was sinking. Furthermore, when the situation was beyond their control, the crew escaped from the ship before everyone else without telling the passengers to evacuate. Unfortunately, the high school students followed the captain’s instruction without question until it was too late for them to escape. The irresponsible actions of the crew raised a global public rage, and South Korean president Park Geun-hye has publicly condemned the actions of the crew as being “akin to murder.”
All crew members are obligated to follow the internationally recognized rule that they must always put the safety of passengers before everything. In other words, they must stay onboard until all passengers are evacuated from the ship. When the Titanic went down, most crew members, including the captain, gave their best efforts to let women and children evacuate first. Simply put, it is the strict duty of the crew to take responsibility for passengers’ safety. Yet, the crew members of the Sewol did exactly the opposite of what they had to do. Only two crew members, who both lost their lives, stayed inside the ship to help passengers evacuate.
I might be able to understand the crew’s decision to escape, because when one’s life is in danger, saving oneself may be the only thing that one can think about. Moreover, it takes an extraordinary amount of courage to stay behind and risk your life to help others. Still, it is beyond understandable irresponsibility that the crew ordered passengers to stay inside until the ship turned into a death trap. Some passengers, who instinctively felt that they should not stay inside the vessel, were able to escape in time. Unfortunately, all the high school students could do was follow the instructions of the “experts.” In this case, the instructions of the experts were disastrously wrong. When most people who stayed behind realized that they had to get out of the vessel, the ship had already tilted so much that they could not reach the exit. If the crew members took just a moment to correct their instruction, hundreds of people could have avoided dying in this disaster.
The surviving crew members must face consequences for their crime. There is no doubt about that. Nevertheless, this incident raises a question: If a similar situation happens to us, should we follow the instructions, or should we move on our own?
It is wise to initially follow instructions, regardless of the situation. The authorities are experts at handling these kinds of situations. Moreover, they are trained to evacuate passengers in times of disaster. Also, if one rushes out without following instruction, one will likely to put oneself in danger. It is also likely that the panic caused by one person could easily lead to an increased casualty rate.
Unfortunately, not all disasters are under controlled situations. The authorities may not be able to help evacuation, or they may simply choose to abandon the passengers. In that case, it is absolutely necessary to be fully aware of the evacuation procedures, so one can calmly evacuate in absence of the authorities. Also, it is crucial to have sharp judgment to understand the situation. If there is no information from authorities and the situation is quickly worsening, using one’s own judgment is best to ensure one’s safety.
This incident was so catastrophically tragic that it should never be repeated. Most of all, I wish for the safe return of missing people.
Alex Cho is a sophomore political science major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at [email protected].