By EMILY HOLLINGSWORTH
In the past month, several high-profile accidents appeared in the media that beg the attention of transportation safety officials, most notably is the still-missing Malaysian airline flight 370 and the ferry that sank off the southwestern coast of South Korea on April 16.
While investigations into the causes of these accidents are still ongoing, the individual cases, representatives of the companies responsible for both calamities are unable to explain why they happened. Whether the cause of the accident is undeterminable or company officials are unwilling to own up to their mistakes, their resentfulness points to an unfortunate lack of regulation and standardization of safety procedures that, in 2014 alone, cost hundreds of lives.
An April 17 news article published on MSN.com reported that the South Korean ferry was found to have three safety deficiencies in 2012 but passed later safety checks in 2013 and 2014, according to international and Korean shipping records. Say reporters Jungmin Jang and Narae Kim in the same article that, “the ferry’s capacity was increased to more than 900 people from 800 when it was imported from Japan in late 2012, shipping sources said, but the expansion passed all safety tests.
The ship, its passengers and cargo are all under two separate insurances.”
Therefore, possible theories as to the cause of the ferry’s sinking are “crew negligence, problems with cargo holding and structural defects of the vessel,” says senior coast guard official Kim Soo-hyun in an interview with Jang and Kim.
All the official statements and investigations in the world, however, cannot undo the damage these tragedies do to the families and friends of those lost or injured.
Accidents in the world of public transportation are not uncommon, from the daily I-95 fender benders, to the FedEx truck that crashed into a school bus, killing ten people, on April 10, to the hundreds of airplanes forced to make emergency landings due to mechanical issues. With many means of transportation, from an airliner to a tricycle, there is an inherent risk of potentially fatal mechanical failure that cannot be avoided no matter the attention paid to safety features. Larger vessels such as ferries, trains and airplanes have the added risk of a crew, who may be incompetent, under trained or simply lax in their attention to safety protocol.
Is everything possible being done to ensure the safety of all travelers? If crew negligence was to blame for the sinking of the South Korean ferry, there may have been a lax standard of protocol, or perhaps the owner of the ship, Ltd Chonghaejin of the Marine Co. made poor hiring decisions.
The Incheon-based company was reportedly criticized after its officials avoided many questions posed about the conduct of the captain and crew.
Investigation into the FedEx crash is more difficult, as the driver of the truck who sideswiped the school bus was killed in the accident.
In an April 11 article by CNN reporters Chelsea Carter, Faith Karimi and Mariano Castillo, NTSB Member Mark Rosekind was quoted saying, “One, we’re going to be investigating the human, the machine and the environment, and what’s critical for us especially in highway accidents is for us to collect perishable information, the kind of information that goes away very quickly…And then the most important thing we can do is issue recommendations so that these kinds of accidents don’t happen again.”
Some would argue that “recommendations” are not nearly sufficient enough.
While both national and international transportation systems are notoriously over-regulated, perhaps officials are spending too much energy regulating the wrong things. The South Korean ferry, the missing Malaysian airliner and the FedEx crash are all still ongoing investigations; it is mind-blowingly clear that there has been an overabundance of transportation-related tragedies in recent news.
Whether these are due to human or mechanical error, this should be taken as a call to action for improvements and changes in both national and international transportation systems.