Normally, the waters around Korea are very calm and quite beautiful- such as in the picture of Gwangili Beach, Busan. However, over 6 weeks ago, Korea experienced a disaster of tremendous consequences that has also had a direct and immediate negative impact on the Korean economy. In the greatest maritime catastrophe South Korea has faced in over 25 years, the culmination of lax risk management processes and procedures became apparent. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. In what should have been a relatively easy rescue operation, over 300 people died because a series of events caused by lax enforcement or risk management protocols conspired to create a deadly and tragic event. What happened?
On April 16, the Sewol Ferry left Incheon heading to Cheju Island. Most of the 476 passengers were high school students going on a school trip. At 8:52 am , a high school student on board the Sewol issued a distress call. At 8:58 am the Sewol Ferry finally issued a distress call ( though not though the normal distress channel) on its own. From 9:00 am to 9:30 am the Crew issued announcements to the passengers to stay put. The Jindo VTS informed the Captain that he needed to make a decision on whether to evacuate the vessel. At 9:32 am the first Coast Guard vessel finally arrives on the scene. It is too late. By 10:39, the Sewol Ferry sinks leaving more than 300 people trapped inside the vessel.
The many risk management mistakes and lapses in judgement include the following:
It is clear the emergency response was not well coordinated and the tepid result was not adequate. Only after the vessel sank ( drowning the 300 passengers who did not abandon the ship) did an adequate size flotilla show up to handle the evacuation of passengers. But it was too late Besides the crew violating a number of laws and safety related procedures as well as maritime regulations such as helping passengers to safety, the crew admitted a complete lack of training. Somehow, the crew and vessel had passed inspection despite a complete breakdown in regulations, policies, and procedures; had such policies and procedures been followed the catastrophe would have been avoided. It became apparent that the crew had no idea on how to handle an evacuation in the face of such an emergency.
It is obvious, that the Sewol Ferry is an extreme example of a risk management failure. But it is a reminder that companies as well as individuals that decide to skirt burdensome risk related processes designed to minimize the exposure of risk may be flirting with disaster. The owners of the Sewol Ferry have been indicted for negligence and failing to comply with the various maritime related laws of Korea. The owners have also suffered a complete meltdown of reputation and brand. Individuals will most likely go to jail. The Captain in fact faces criminal charges which are punishable by death.
This is reminder to all companies and individuals involved in safety related occupations as well as companies in heavily regulated industries that not only should risk management processes be implemented but that such processes need to be strictly followed and enforced. How does your company or organization stack up with regards to enforcement of legal risk management processes? There is no room for error.