Informa Markets

Author Bio ▼

Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
November 24, 2014

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

The South Korean ferry disaster and the importance of good regulation

Public safety and corporate responsibility have become high profile in South Korea following one of its worst maritime disasters. During his recent trial for the murder of nearly 300 people (most of them children) as a result of the South Korean ferry disaster, Captain Lee Joon-seok apologised for committing “a grave sin” in abandoning the sinking vessel, an action for which he was found professionally negligent last week and sentenced to 36 years in prison.

Accepting that his gross negligence when his vessel capsized in April did not amount to an intent to kill, judges concluded that he was not the only person responsible for the tragedy; the chief engineer was also sentenced to 30 years in prison and 13 other crew members were jailed for up to 20 years on charges including criminal negligence and accidental homicide.

By contrast, no individual was found culpable for the deaths of 193 people when the Herald of Free Enterprise sank off Zeebrugge in 1987, despite an inquest finding of unlawful killing and a public inquiry concluding that the ferry company had been ‘infected with the disease of sloppiness from top to bottom’[1].

Predictable and preventable disasters in the 1980s inspired bereaved people and survivors to form Disaster Action[2], a small but influential charity whose membership today reflects experience of 28 disasters. Our new book describes what brought us together and has united us since: a collective conviction and commitment to help create a health and safety climate in which disasters are less likely to occur. Our focus on corporate responsibility and accountability has underpinned this intention, many of our members having suffered greatly as a direct result of gross corporate failures.

In South Korea, an interim government report in July found that the South Korean ferry disaster was partly due to government negligence and corruption, with lax regulation, poor safety inspections and a slow and badly-coordinated coast guard response all identified as factors that led to the tragedy[3]. Ironically, that same month the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency proposed cutting maritime safety regulations introduced as a result of the Zeebrugge disaster.

Our submission to the consultation expresses concern that deregulation might compromise safety. We believe there is a risk that the duties owed to shareholders by private companies may climb further back up the scale than they ought to if too much discretion is given back to companies around health and safety provision. The loss of 300 souls is too costly a reminder of the need for public safety and corporate responsibility.

Collective Conviction: the Story of Disaster Action (2014) by Anne Eyre & Pam Dix, Liverpool University Press



[1] Stuart Crainer, Zeebrugge: Learning from Disaster: Lessons in Corporate Responsibility (Herald Families Association/Herald Charitable Trust: London, 1993)


[3] BBC News (July 8 2014) South Korea ferry ‘sank due to negligence, corruption’


Driving for Better Safety - Free eBook download

This eBook will guide you through some of the key understandings you need to be able to manage driver safety effectively and, at the end, provide a series of free resources you can access to help you ensure your own driver safety management system is robust, legally compliant and in line with industry-accepted good practice.

Download this eBook from Driving for Better Business and SHP to cover:

  • Why do we need to manage driver safety?
  • Duty of care – a shared responsibility;
  • Setting the rules with a driving for work policy;
  • Managing driver safety;
  • Ensuring safe vehicles;
  • Safe journeys and fitness to drive;
  • Record keeping;
  • Reporting;
  • The business benefits of good practice;
  • Additional resources

Related Topics

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments