The scene in “Titanic” of Captain Edward Smiths going down together with the ship when it sank has given the audience an impactful memory. Sadly, reality always differs from the heroic act appears on screen especially to what happened recently to the South Korean Sewol ferry. On the 16 April 2014, Sewol, carrying 476 passengers, 325 were secondary student; en route to Jeju Island from Incheon has sunk. So far 213 deaths have been confirmed, 174 people have been rescued, and 89 people are still missing. However, the cause to the publics’ grief and anger are mainly because of the captain and crew who abandon the ship, placing their own lives ahead of passengers who are terrified.
According to Bloomberg, South Korean President, Park Geun Hye says in a meeting that the actions of the captain and some crew members just cannot be understood with common sense and they are like murder and should not be tolerated. Nonetheless, the question for now is, how serious is it for the captain to go down with his ship. Speaking with the CNN, Captain James Staples, a maritime consultant says that “The captain’s first obligation is for the safety of his crew and passengers. He should stay on board that vessel until he knows everybody is safely evacuated.” ABC stated that there is no international maritime law that requires a captain to stay on a sinking ship, but many countries either have their own laws or subscribe to international treaties that mandate certain behavior. Rod Sullivan, a professor specializing in maritime law at Florida Coastal School of Law tells TIME that Article 11 of Korea’s Seaman’s Act mandates the “captain has a duty to take all necessary measures to save the lives” of those aboard a ship, and breaches of these duties could lead to a maximum of five years in prison. However, Fox News noted that Lee Joon-Seok, Captain of Sewol, had more than 40 years’ experience at sea, and could speak with eloquence about the romance and danger of a life spent on ships. Unfortunately, his action has leads him to fall from grace and tarnished his own reputation.
Despite that, does it mean it is right for the captain to go down with the ship? Of course, it is the captains’ responsible for the safety of the ship and passengers aboard but he did apologize and admitted wrong and is now been charged for negligence of duty and violation of maritime law. Still, can all the blame be put on the captain? Of course not! Radically, as a human being, during tough times, we tend to get more selfish. On top of that, the off-duty captain of Sewol told the investigators that he had warned the owner of Chonghaejin Marine Co. about the serious stability problems with Sewol and yet, his warning was brushed aside. If it were so, aren’t the company the one who should take up the responsibility?
- Colleen Curry. (2014, April 17). Captains Who Abandon Ships: Are They Breaking the Law?. ABC News. Retrieved May 4,
- Mullen, J. (2014, April 23). Abandon ship? In recent maritime
disasters, captains don't hang around. CNN. Retrieved May 4, 2014, from http://edition.cnn.com/2014/04/21/world/asia/ship-captain-role/index.html?iref=allsearch
- Nicest man on ship: Captain had 40 years' experience, love of
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- Heesu Lee & Sam Kim. (2014, April 22). South Korean Ferry Crew Actions 'Like Murder,' Park
Says. Bloomberg.com. Retrieved May 4, 2014, from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-20/south-korea-ferry-probe-focuses-on-vessel-s-sharp-turn.html
- Laura Stampler. (2014, April 22). Yes, It's Illegal for a Captain to Abandon Ship in South Korea. Time. Retrieved May 4, 2014, from http://time.com/71828/south-korea-ferry-sewol-captain-leejunseok/