Go to contents

[Editorial] Placing Money Over Safety

Posted July. 15, 2008 07:52,   


Though the prime reason behind the shooting death of the South Korean tourist at the Mount Geumgang resort was the North’s excessive use of force, tour operator Hyundai Asan cannot avoid blame because many signs show it failed to protect the tourist’s safety. By keeping small and big incidents prior to the latest one hushed up, the company allowed the risk to fester.

In May, a South Korean provincial official who went to the mountain for training had a gun pointed at him by a North Korean soldier. The official unwittingly jogged early in the morning in a prohibited area. He was released with a warning after being detained 30 minutes at a North Korean guard post. When the official informed Hyundai Asan of the incident, the company belatedly told him that the area was off limits before 6 a.m. The Rev. Kim Hong-sul of Poor Community, a Christian missionary organization, also experienced a similar ordeal last month. He was caught while walking in a prohibited area of a beach and was released after 20 minutes of detention.

Most of the other tourists in the tour group of the deceased victim, Park Wang-ja, said they received no warnings on restricted military areas. One of Park’s friends who accompanied her said, “A day before her death, another person in our group walked in the same place where Park walked. However, she didn’t think it was a prohibited area because of no warning sign.” The fence did not fully cover 32 meters of the shoreline, and the warning sign was placed at the other end of the area. If Hyundai Asan had paid a little attention, it could have asked for an extension of the fence or built one itself.

Hyundai Asan’s neglect in safety measures is thus a factor behind Park’s death. It should have filed protests with the North if needed and came up with stringent safety measures whenever an incident occurred. The company was aware of Park’s death four and a half hours after it was notified by the North. It is still unclear why Hyundai Asan wasted two hours after going to the scene before reporting her death to South Korea’s Unification Ministry. The late notification was the decisive factor behind Seoul’s weak initial response.

If South Korea also fails to put in place critical safety measures in the tourist development of Gaesong and Mount Baekdu, another fatal incident could devastate our people again. Safety should come before anything else, especially profit, when it comes to tours to North Korea.