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Ferry with 470 Passengers Sinks off Korea
April 16, 2014 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Ferry with 470 Passengers Sinks off Korea Scores still missing, many of them high school students on an excursion. According to comments on the Marmot's Hole Korea blog, passengers were told to wait in their cabins rather than gather on deck. Video from Japanese Fuji television.
posted by KokuRyu (59 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
A note about the Marmot's Hole: the commenters and their comments can be highly highly annoying, but TMH can be a good place to find real-time info about Korea.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:33 AM on April 16


What an awful story. What a nightmare.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:38 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


More reasons why I'll never, ever set foot on a RO-RO.
posted by sonascope at 10:41 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


told to wait in their cabins rather than gather on deck

I tell you what, in an emergency, I am going to do what I think is best for me, not what I am told to do. Many WTC South tower employees who listened to the official word to stay at work died, but those who ignored that and left the building had a chance.
posted by thelonius at 10:41 AM on April 16 [18 favorites]


No doubt the captain did something very criminally negligent, against the normal protocols, which sorts of flies in the face of the "Korean Confucian culture" explanation people came up with for the Asiana airplane accident, but does confirm that Korea needs to work out some problems concerning safety regulations and corruption.
posted by ChuckRamone at 11:04 AM on April 16


More reasons why I'll never, ever set foot on a RO-RO.

One of the Marmot's Hole commenters speculated the capsizing could have been caused by a load shift.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:12 AM on April 16


What astonished me was the pictures of the ferry, well over on its side with lots of people waiting to be pulled off it by Helicopter. All the life rafts on the rails were still there and not activated. In fact I didn't see very many life rafts in the water. Why on earth didn't they use them?

TOP TIP: If the boat you are on is sinking, get in another one NOW, even if it is small and orange. And especially if there are rescuers close by. They're not going to lose you.
posted by Brockles at 11:13 AM on April 16 [7 favorites]


That was the same exact though I had, Brockles. In all the pics you only see a few liferafts being used, the rest are all still stowed?!

The ship has a capacity of 900ppl, but was carrying <500ppl, there should have been enough survival equipment to save everyone. Especially with the sinking taking over an hour, they could have orchestrated an orderly evacuation.
posted by jpeacock at 11:24 AM on April 16


What astonished me was the pictures of the ferry, well over on its side with lots of people waiting to be pulled off it by Helicopter. All the life rafts on the rails were still there and not activated. In fact I didn't see very many life rafts in the water. Why on earth didn't they use them?

I remember reading William Langeweische's article re the Estonia, another roll-on-roll-off ferry. If this sinking resembles that one in any way, the list and heel-over would have happened so rapidly that many passengers would have been caught under decks and the deployment of rafts and boats would have been very difficult given that the ship is now laying on its side.

In any case, this is just terrible. Those poor people.
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:31 AM on April 16 [5 favorites]


I tell you what, in an emergency, I am going to do what I think is best for me, not what I am told to do. Many WTC South tower employees who listened to the official word to stay at work died, but those who ignored that and left the building had a chance.

Absolutely, but in an emergency, it's very hard to think clearly. Especially if you are a teenager.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:43 AM on April 16 [8 favorites]


I tell you what, in an emergency, I am going to do what I think is best for me, not what I am told to do. Many WTC South tower employees who listened to the official word to stay at work died, but those who ignored that and left the building had a chance.

One problem with this is that a bunch of people stampeding to do what's best for themselves can endanger everyone even more. Sometimes it's good to have an orderly plan. Not that that's always the right decision, or is always right, but having a plan for emergency evacuation isn't a bad thing.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:48 AM on April 16 [8 favorites]


Blog comments are not a source of fact.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:04 PM on April 16


Absolutely, but in an emergency, it's very hard to think clearly. Especially if you are a teenager.

And, in fact, I think one of the lessons from the World Trade Center was that if you practice your evacuation plans regularly, people will follow the plan successfully, even if they aren't thinking clearly. You obviously can't do that on a ferry, but it seems curious to suggest the lesson from the World Trade Center was "everyone run round like lunatics".
posted by hoyland at 12:05 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]




But does confirm that Korea needs to work out some problems concerning safety regulations and corruption

How does corruption figure into this, ChuckRamone? I haven't heard any articles or sources relating corruption to either the ferry or Asiana 214 -- can you cite sources?
posted by suedehead at 12:18 PM on April 16


No doubt the captain did something very criminally negligent, against the normal protocols, which sorts of flies in the face of the "Korean Confucian culture" explanation people came up with for the Asiana airplane accident, but does confirm that Korea needs to work out some problems concerning safety regulations and corruption.
Wait, what? I can't tell if this is sarcastic or not, but if not, where are you getting that? I don't think we have any idea what happened and who, if anyone, was to blame.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:20 PM on April 16


I wonder how corruption played into the Costa Concordia disaster? Or the Le Megantic tragedy in Quebec that basically destroyed an entire town?

Human fallibility crosses cultures.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:26 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I tell you what, in an emergency, I am going to do what I think is best for me, not what I am told to do.

This kind of mentality is dangerous to others, and possibly yourself.

In an emergency like this, there were SUPPOSED to be trained crew who were supposed to direct the crowds towards doing the right thing. But that didn't happen for some reason. Lack of proper training, I assume.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:28 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


At the root of it all is a certain amount of corruption. People getting certain jobs or taking shortcuts in Korea as kickbacks or to save some money. The reports coming out of Korean news sources say the captain was trying to take some kind of shortcut because they were behind schedule, and he took upon himself to override the automated navigation.
posted by ChuckRamone at 12:29 PM on April 16


Human fallibility crosses cultures.

QF the sad, sad Truth.
posted by Aizkolari at 12:33 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


> More reasons why I'll never, ever set foot on a RO-RO

Are they considerably more dangerous than any other way of getting from here to there?
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:37 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


At the root of it all is a certain amount of corruption. People getting certain jobs or taking shortcuts in Korea as kickbacks or to save some money. The reports coming out of Korean news sources say the captain was trying to take some kind of shortcut because they were behind schedule, and he took upon himself to override the automated navigation.

Can you provide a link to the news articles? I've seen a lot of criticism of the captain, but nothing about corruption. Otherwise you're just speculating, and your comments, I'm afraid, are worse then useless.
posted by suedehead at 12:47 PM on April 16 [5 favorites]


I tell you what, in an emergency, I am going to do what I think is best for me, not what I am told to do.

Please don't.

In an overwhelming majority of cases (especially in the first world), acting against the planned emergency protocol is only going to make things worse.
If it were just you, I'd say take your chances and if you die, you die, but often you will make things worse for others.

(Advice does not apply to obviously run-down ferries, overloaded trains, or other shady forms of transport)
posted by madajb at 12:53 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


How awful. Condolences to the families and friends.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:57 PM on April 16


It's the beginning of the day in Korea at the moment, so the news cycle is just starting up. I am sure there will be more info by end of day on the West Coast.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:58 PM on April 16


Are they considerably more dangerous than any other way of getting from here to there?

Big doors not far above the water line. Bad, bad juju.
posted by ocschwar at 1:07 PM on April 16


madajb, realistically, the one time I was in a life-threatening situation, there was no one to tell me what to do, and no planned protocol, and that experience of deciding and acting quickly is something I'm likely to go right back to in a panic scenario. Of course, it's impossible to predict how you will react in real extremity.

Another issue is that I am not very eager to believe that anything said in the serotonin voice over a PA system actually is a planned and careful emergency protocol; it's quite possibly a corporate policy set in some law firm.
posted by thelonius at 1:11 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Also, the lifeboats are on the deck, not in my cabin. I recognize what you are saying - you don't want everyone running in circles and trying their own heroics, if your job is public safety, for good reasons. In my example of the WTC South Tower, they probably had considered that a mass evacuation was going to be dangerous and was going to complicate the response to the North tower fire, and that is not absurd. But it was wrong.
posted by thelonius at 1:21 PM on April 16


Are they considerably more dangerous than any other way of getting from here to there?

The International Maritime Organization has a good (albeit old (1997)) paper on this:

http://www.imo.org/OurWork/Safety/Regulations/Documents/RORO.pdf

The World Casualty Statistics for 1994 published by Lloyd's Register of Shipping show that passenger/ro-ro cargo loss rate per thousand ships was 2.3 - the same as the average figure for all ships.

However, when one considers loss of life at sea the picture changes. Between 1989 and 1994, the Lloyd's Register figures show that 4,583 lives were lost in accidents at sea. Of these 1,544 were lost in accidents involving passenger/ro-ro cargo ships - exactly one third, even though ro-ro ships make up only a small fraction of world merchant marine tonnage. This would seem to indicate that although passenger ro-ro ships are involved in an average number of accidents the consequences of those accidents are usually far worse.

An important study concerning the safety of ro-ro ships (including cargo ships) was submitted to IMO in 1983 by Norway. The study was compiled by the classification society det Norske Veritas and covered the years 1965-1982. Of 341 casualties during the period, 217 were defined as serious and 36 resulted in the total loss of the ship. The study showed that the most common causes of serious casualties were collisions (24%); machinery damage (17%): grounding (17%); shift of cargo and operational (16%); fire and explosion (14%).

The figures changed significantly when total losses were studied. Here the most common cause was shift of cargo and operational faults (43%); collision (25%) and fire and explosion (18%). The dNV study showed that total losses as a result of a collision were much higher for ro-ros than for other ships (with only a 9% occurrence). Both collisions and uncontrolled shifts of cargo more frequently led to serious consequences with ro-ros. The paper noted that more than 70% of all ro-ro total losses due to collision resulted in loss of lives while 60% of ships reported to have capsized or sunk following a collision did so in less than ten minutes. Nearly all of the total losses involved ships of less than 110 metres in length.

A further important point made by the dNV study was that the ro-ro ships most frequently exposed to serious casualties and total losses were the pure ro-ro and freight-only types. Pure ro-ros had a high percentage share of all casualties and especially of total losses. Passenger ferries, on the other hand, had a fairly high percentage share of all categories but the serious casualty/total loss frequency was relatively low. The study also showed that the total loss rate for ro-ros was significantly lower than the average for the world fleet (under 0.25% over the 13-year period compared with about 0.55% for the world fleet).
posted by longdaysjourney at 1:23 PM on April 16 [17 favorites]


Can you provide a link to the news articles? I've seen a lot of criticism of the captain, but nothing about corruption. Otherwise you're just speculating, and your comments, I'm afraid, are worse then useless.

I think what we're seeing here is the result of lax safety standards, because of a somewhat blase attitude about safety, and people who are being paid to look the other way. But you're right, I'm extrapolating a bit too much and maybe I should not have used the term "corruption" so readily.
posted by ChuckRamone at 1:25 PM on April 16


I tell you what, in an emergency, I am going to do what I think is best for me, not what I am told to do.

This is a good idea as long as (1) you have all pertinent information, (2) you are equipped to properly evaluate that information and (3) you are in an emotional state where you can react logically to numbers 1 and 2. In other words, very rarely.
posted by brundlefly at 1:38 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I think the accident must have happened at night, as the ferry was travelling to Jeju Island. And it seems to have happened rather quickly. I can't imagine trying to get out of the ship at night.

A similar accident happened here in British Columbia, with the Queen of the North. The ship hit a rock at night, but the crew got the passengers off, miraculously, although two people died.

No one knows what happened exactly. There were rumours that the captain and someone on the bridge had been having an affair in the months leading up to the capsizing, but we still don't know why the ship hit a rock.

I added that in there because these sorts of tragedies can happen anywhere, really. We're used to doing things safely that, a hundred years ago, were pretty risky.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:47 PM on April 16


It's ridiculous that these ferries don't have swarms of robots following them around, creating real time multi-swath sonar maps so that they won't crash into rocks. When will they learn?
posted by oceanjesse at 1:55 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


hal_c_on: In an emergency like this, there were SUPPOSED to be trained crew who were supposed to direct the crowds towards doing the right thing. But that didn't happen for some reason. Lack of proper training, I assume.

The problem is that lately it feels like this is more the rule than the exception when dealing with ferries and cruise ships. There have been several cases where the captain and/or crew either did not evacuate their passengers competently or did nothing except escaping themselves. The Costa Concordia is the most obvious case, but there are others.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:43 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Yesterday one of BBC's early reports stated that passengers on the sinking ship were instructed to jump from the ferry into the sea. What terrible orders! How long would a body survive in those stormy waters, protected only by clothing and (maybe) a personal floatation device?

I am very surprised that an orderly process, using the emergency watercraft, was not deployed instead.
posted by seawallrunner at 2:46 PM on April 16


If the heel occurred as quickly as the Estonia's, the crew would not have had time to organize an evacuation.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2004/05/a-sea-story/302940/

Since the first catastrophic heel maybe eight minutes had gone by. The list had increased by now to 40 degrees. When it got to 45 degrees, two or three minutes later, escape from the ship's interior became all but impossible.

Survival that night was a very tight race, and savagely simple. People who started early and moved fast had some chance of winning. People who started late or hesitated for any reason had no chance at all. Action paid. Contemplation did not. The mere act of getting dressed was enough to condemn people to death, and although many of those who escaped to the water succumbed to the cold, most of the ultimate winners endured the ordeal completely naked or in their underwear. The survivors all seem to have grasped the nature of this race, the first stage of which involved getting outside to the Deck 7 promenade without delay.


From news accounts, it looks like the list and heel happened very quickly in the Korean ferry as well.
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:54 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


I'm with Thelonius for the most part. Not in the sense of trampling over other people to reach an exit or anything, but if I'm in a boat that is sinking and someone tells me I should stay below decks, screw them, I'm heading for the deck. Of course, that's partially because commercial vessels have an utterly terrible record when it comes to the crew directing safe and orderly evacuations, and I'm not going to bet on me being in the exception that actually has a trained and responsible crew instead of the Costa Concordia.
posted by tavella at 3:12 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


seawallrunner, once it had heeled over half the lifeboats would be unusable and the other half very difficult to launch.
posted by tavella at 3:15 PM on April 16


I tell you what, in an emergency, I am going to do what I think is best for me, not what I am told to do.

For instance...
posted by fairmettle at 3:24 PM on April 16


Horrifying, and sure to start off a round of anguished national self-examination, which is not inappropriate as far as that goes.

For what it's worth, myself and Lady Wonderchicken and the members of her extended family are fine. We haven't been to Jeju-do in years, although we've been hoping to visit again sometime.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:49 PM on April 16 [6 favorites]


The Hartford circus fire of 1944 and the towers' attack are two examples of people surviving because they chose to leave quickly and not listen to other advice.

But that's just two examples; there may well be a hundred examples of people following advice to stay in place and thus they survived.

In the case of the circus fire, the blaze spread so quickly--good God, the tent was sprayed with gasoline and paraffin to protect against rain--that those who headed for the exits very quickly survived; others who hesitated found themselves caught by the fire at their seats or trapped in the big top by the large animal cages blocking the way. And I have no doubt that some survivors of the WTC climbed over others to get away. Not everyone acts heroically when their lives are at stake, and who is there to criticize?
posted by etaoin at 4:46 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


But that's just two examples; there may well be a hundred examples of people following advice to stay in place and thus they survived.

The counter examples would be where people went to escape against instructions and died. If staying in place and leaving have the same outcome most of the time then leaving is still smarter.
posted by srboisvert at 6:37 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


How long would a body survive in those stormy waters,

Firstly, it was pretty much dead calm. The projected survival time in water that temperature is between one to about 3 hours.

As with the Costa Concordia, this is criminally negligent seamanship. The rule in coast-wise navigation is that one never enters shoal waters in small vessels without local knowledge.

Reports indicate that the abrupt grounding and hull rupture caused the vessel to capsize almost immediately, and this is borne out by the first pictures captured. Any life-boats fixed on davits on both sides of the vessel were pretty much all rendered inoperable immediately. Every inflatable should have been launched, and the passengers should have been ordered to abandon ship.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:37 PM on April 16


We have this deep faith in technology and human competence that is routinely proven to be misplaced.
posted by spitbull at 9:16 PM on April 16


This is a good idea as long as (1) you have all pertinent information, (2) you are equipped to properly evaluate that information and (3) you are in an emotional state where you can react logically to numbers 1 and 2. In other words, very rarely.

That's true, I know. Maybe I'm just still somewhat traumatized (I was in a crowd of people that someone drove a car into intentionally, years ago).
posted by thelonius at 9:44 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


More reasons why I'll never, ever set foot on a RO-RO.

As far as I know, the whole 22-mv Washington State Ferry fleet is RO-RO. I would, any day of the week, any week of the year, consider it safer to ride a ferry than to drive between Seattle and Bremerton. Through 60+ years of operation, WSF hasn't had a capsizing, and the system moves millions of passengers a year. (Although the Skagit did sink in Tanzania, with sadly great loss of life, it had been decommissioned years ago and was a passenger-only ferry.)
posted by gingerest at 10:05 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I'm with the leave immediately crowd. Frankly, reading "A Sea Story", the Langeweische piece about the Estonia linked above by longdaysjourney, convinced me that faith in a rational, civilized, and effective evacuation protocol is largely misplaced, and I've taken note of such things in the time since. Most of the people on Estonia weren't even aware there was a problem; convincing others that there was a necessity to act was a time-wasting way to commit suicide. There wasn't really a panic as such until the ship rolled over and didn't roll back, and by then most of the dead were already doomed. (The horror of having to fight your way along a hallway, only to face an insurmountable chasm that was a hallway running up and down, gives me the willies to this day. Not to mention the gangways that become overhead bars.) In fact, I suspect in many cases you would face few human obstacles. If you had other humans to deal with, some form of cooperation is likely: I look at the Hillsborough disaster video for proof of this, such as people lifting themselves and others to an upper deck, and the tale of a friend who was in a crush once where a big man whisked her off her feet and up onto something without her even asking. Part of the problem of an event like this is that you're acting on partial information. What you need to work around are the people who have less information than you and less survival instinct, but they're probably not getting in your way intentionally and, much as on a NYC sidewalk, simply moving with purpose gives you the edge. What you want to do is get out of the place where you have fewer chances -- the interior of the crowd, the interior of the ship, and so on. That alone puts you up versus anyone who doesn't realize this yet.

I am fascinated by the video I've seen already of passengers in their lifevests sitting in cabins waiting for instructions. I think those people are probably dead, trapped and drowned despite their safety equipment. Now maybe that is where the Confucian culture comes in.
posted by dhartung at 10:58 PM on April 16


In my example of the WTC South Tower, they probably had considered that a mass evacuation was going to be dangerous and was going to complicate the response to the North tower fire, and that is not absurd. But it was wrong.

It was, but that was an exceptional circumstance.
And even then, an orderly, planned emergency scenario (see Rick Rescorla at Morgan Stanley) saved thousands of lives.
There are even reports of visitors to Morgan Stanley evacuating safely because they were shown the emergency stairwells when they were handed visitor badges.

For sure, I'm not suggesting you ignore obviously hazardous instructions, but if a crew member tells you to take stairway A instead of stairway B to safety, even though stairway B looks easier, you are better off following instruction than striking out on your own.
People are generally horrible at evaluating risk in a panic.

As they say when you get on a plane, "The nearest exit may be behind you".
posted by madajb at 11:07 PM on April 16


passengers in their lifevests sitting in cabins waiting for instructions. I think those people are probably dead, trapped and drowned despite their safety equipment

Putting a flotation device on in a situation where you're inside a vessel with water coming up and a roof above you is a case when you'll be drowned because of, not despite, your safety equipment, I suspect.
posted by ambrosen at 1:11 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I don't know if the poor souls in the lower decks had enough time to save themselves, even if they were gifted with perfect knowledge of the best course of action. This is really horrible. These ferry disasters keep coming on the regular; I think I am going to try to avoid that kind of boat ride.
posted by thelonius at 3:20 AM on April 17


This question probably betrays my lack of engineering and materials knowledge, but couldn't people design a device that lets you saw or punch through the hull and make circular portals for rescuers to climb into and out of? Rather than having to dive down under the ship and then swim up that is. Or couldn't ships be designed with escape hatches below the waterline that could be opened in a capsize situation? Maybe it's just not something that would be worth the cost given the rarity of these events?

I'm so sorry for those poor people.
posted by freecellwizard at 6:16 AM on April 17


A friend in Korea related that theories about NK mines or torpedo action are circulating. If these turn out to be true, this tragedy has the potential to escalate to a bloodbath. Oh, and they're heading into an election cycle with an arch-conservative at the helm. So they might not need to be true.
posted by GhostRider at 6:38 AM on April 17


Roro ferries don't need any external help sinking. They are pretty much made to sink, they are ships with giant open spaces, unsecured cargo, and huge openings close to the waterline. Someone leaves a door open or it leaks, they sink. Waves or a too tight turn shifts the cars, they sink. Rock breaches the hull, they sink. There's a reason why they are responsible for such a huge portion of maritime accident deaths.
posted by tavella at 7:06 AM on April 17


no doubt true, tavella.
posted by GhostRider at 8:25 AM on April 17






Oh no, the Wikipedia article has a dark detail that I hadn't seen:

Kang Min-kyu, 52, the vice principal of the Danwon High School which many of the victims attended, was rescued from the ship but was later found hanging from a tree in Jindo, near the gymnasium where relatives of the victims were camping out. Police stated that he used his own belt to hang himself and a note was found in his wallet. According to the two-page note, he had organized the field trip that had brought the high school party aboard the doomed ship. "Surviving alone is too painful when 200 lives are unaccounted for... I take full responsibility." The note ends with a request that his body be cremated and the ashes scattered over the site of the accident, "that I might be a teacher in heaven to those kids whose bodies have not been found."


.
posted by ghostbikes at 8:02 AM on April 21




Initial reports on chosun.com of the teacher's suicide included a detail about how he was captured (unclear whether photo or video) smiling when getting off the rescue boat onto land, and then he was targeted by some netizens who attacked him for seeming happy while his students were dead/missing. I haven't seen this mentioned in any other later reports, so it may have been a misreported item. But it seems typical of certain people's online behavior at the moment over there, where tempers are running rampant. If true, a context-less moment was used to judge a survivor harshly and might have contributed to his decision.
posted by shortfuse at 8:23 AM on April 23


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