Go to contents

Stranded cruise ship in Hongdo waters almost caused another Sewol disaster

Stranded cruise ship in Hongdo waters almost caused another Sewol disaster

Posted October. 01, 2014 03:39,   


The Vacance, a cruise ship affiliated with the Hongdo Cruise Association, carrying 109 people including 104 passengers and five crew members, ran aground around 9 a.m. at waters 200 meters off Hongdo wharf in Shinan County, South Jeolla Province. No casualties were reported as nearby cruise ships and fishing boats came to rescue, but another major accident almost happened in about five months after the Sewol ferry disaster. It makes us feel dizzy just to imagine what would have happened if the accident had occurred in remote sea, rather than coastal waters just off Hongdo Island.

No one died or went missing, but authorities’ response was sloppy at best again this time. Boats involved in rescue operations were a cruise ship some 100 meters away from the sinking ship and fishing boats nearby. Boats from the Korea Coast Guard arrived at the scene after the rescue operations were completed. The Vacance is an aged boat built in Japan in 1987. The ship obtained a 10-year license and started operation on May 16, about one month after the Sewol disaster. Back then, some 70 Hongdo residents made appeal to the Mokpo headquarters of the Korea Coast Guard. They opposed issuing the license, saying that the aged Vacance was not appropriate for operation in waters near Hongdo with lots of rocks, but the appeal was rejected. The process, through which a 27-year-old ferry was introduced from Japan, underwent remodeling and expansion work to increase its passenger capacity from 350 people to 500, is quite similar to that of the doomed ferry Sewol. Authorities will need to investigate how the Korea Coast Guard’s Mokpo branch came to issue the license despite objection by residents who are well aware of local situation.

Another maritime accident has occurred at a time when negotiations to enact the Special Sewol Ferry Act made no progress amid turmoil among politicians, while the bereaved families of victims in the Sewol disaster and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy are requesting the right to investigate and indict suspects. The authority continued to issue licenses for those remodeled but decrepit old cruise passengers, which were imported from Japan, even though aged boats are cruising in many parts of coastal waters around the Korean Peninsula. The accident has not resulted in a massive disaster due to a prompt response, because residents created a rescue manual on their own after the 1985 sinking of a cruise ship there. Soon after the accident occurred, passengers called 119 and 112 for rescue, but the rescue system did not function, demonstrating the authority’s rescue system still has many loopholes.

The cruise ship’s operator was able to win 10-year license despite the objection of Hongdo residents and this reveals lingering loopholes and defects in institutions and regulations. It is shameful to see such an absurd accident happening in Korea, a world-leading shipbuilding powerhouse. People are asking what has changed and what the government has done since the Sewol disaster.