The 1st Anniversary of Sewol Ferry Disaster, ‘Safety Measures Assessment Meeting’
Date April 16th, 2015 | Venue Meeting Room, Seoul City Hall
Today is the first anniversary of the Sewol Ferry disaster. A year ago, we all shed tears of bitterness in the face of that unprecedented tragedy. We blamed ourselves for our helplessness, watching the Sewol Ferry sinking into the sea.
Tragically, nine missing people are still imprisoned in those dark waters. The truth of what happened, and the investigation into those responsible for the disaster are also stuck in the impenetrable darkness. Families of the missing are not able to leave Paengmok Port, wishing they were the families of the victims, and the families of the victims are wailing on the street. They are asking where on Earth the government and the country are in this dark time. Many people say that the time after the Sewol Ferry disaster cannot be the same as the time before. We have discussed changing our views, innovating our society, and reconstructing our country. We have confirmed our determination not to repeat this tragedy of grief, the cruel April. We are now determined to proceed to a new society, where the people come first, a fundamental change in our direction. A year has now passed since the disaster, and the Sewol Ferry disaster is with us again today. It is asking what we have been doing for the last year, where we are heading now.
An American philosopher named Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Shin Chae-ho also said, “There is no future for the people that have forgotten their history.” The problem is that the words “we will never forget” are not enough. We must put our words into action.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government is not free from the memory of the Sewol Ferry disaster. Seoul has also seen an endless string of disasters such as the Noryangjin Reservoir connecting pipeline accident and the rear-end collision of trains at Sangwangsimni Station. With such recent accidents such as the sunken road on Seokchon Underpass, it is clear that many things are worrying the citizens and the people. I cannot tell you in confidence that the Seoul Government is fully prepared for accidents in ventilation holes, emergency exits, and sunken roads, and as such with its overall safety policies for the citizens.
Of course, it is true that we have established countermeasures after several accidents, and are implementing many projects for safety. Since a negligent accident in a construction site, we have established preventive measures and seen positive results. Even though after the government’s announcement in 2013, 11 people died in an accident at a construction site ordered by the government in the same year, there were no casualties in 2014. The injury rate in construction has decreased from 0.38% to 0.11% in a year. That is real progress.
However, I do not think we can be satisfied with or proud of these achievements. Seoul is a giant city, where ten million citizens are residing, and complicated transportation systems and structures are concentrated and clustered. Due to aged facilities and surrounding mountains, a variety of safety threats such as landslides and floods are gathered closely around us. There are so many areas classified as blind spots of negligent accidents including high-rise buildings, multi-use facilities, underground shopping centers, facilities for children, small-sized studios, and flophouses. These buildings, which were constructed during the high economic growth in the 70s and 80s, are now 30, 40, and 50 years old. The time has come when repair, maintenance, and management are crucial issues of our time.
In fact, safety is like air or water for us. We normally do not know its importance until an accident or disaster breaks out, when we finally realize its importance. That is why safety can never be overstated. The Seoul Metropolitan Government should make safety a way of everyday life. Please prepare safety management manuals for each area and double-check situation dissemination systems. Please analyze even potentially minor accidents and make a full preventive preparation plan.
One of the world’s greatest thinkers once said, “Crisis is a situation where old things are passing away, but new things are not coming.” I think that is an excellent diagnosis. The paradigm of the past is already passing by, but a system prepared for a new, safe era has not arrived.
Ulrich Beck, who analyzed crises in post-industrial society, said that accidents are becoming a routine in our societies because we are not fully preparing for them, even though we have many crisis factors. He said safety itself is in danger. Facing the first anniversary of the Sewol Ferry tragedy, I think we should settle ourselves down to make Seoul a safe city. I hope you take this opportunity of the one-year anniversary to review, analyze, and prepare countermeasures. Thank you very much.