The scale of the South Korean ship tragedy has been magnified due to 375 schoolchildren who were on the ferry going to the south of the country. In a disaster that could take public attention off the Malaysian Airlines jetliner, which has been the centre of global enquiry since it went missing on March 8, the South Korean administration has been thrust into the glare. Rescuers were having a hard time in choppy and muddled cold waters, looking for survivors and bodies in the ship that keeled over before going down.
That South Korean President Park Geun-Hye visited the site and talked to relatives of those onboard showed how seriously the government was taking the disaster. This is in marked contrast to what happened after the Malaysian airliner, MH370, went missing after an hour into flight. The first seven days were spent looking for the debris in the South China Sea while the Malaysian government waffled to reveal the finer details of the flight as public anger mounted.
On the other hand, the South Koreans seem to be doing a relatively better job managing the tragedy. There has been considerable transparency in detailing the rescue and search operations. Park was jeered by passengers’ relatives but seemed to take it in her stride. In moments of crisis, the human spirit tends to fray and this was on show when Prime Minister Chung Hong-Won was mobbed and bottles were thrown at him by the relatives.
The MH370 tragedy and the South Korean ferry disaster come within a little more than 40 days of one another. It is hard to compare the two but both are tinged by a helplessness that exposes the frailty of human existence over nature’s debilitating vastness. MH370 has become a mystery with no vital clue emerging from the over four week hi-tech multinational search operation that scoured the South China Sea and southern Indian Ocean.
Whenever there is a crisis of this nature involving scores of lives, the situation easily turns precarious. There is no cultural and economic uniformity among countries of the world. This makes different regions approach mishaps with different levels of alacrity and the difference in amount of resources at the disposal of nations makes rescue and search operations subject to economic well being. This may put pressure on poorer nations, like those in sub-Saharan Africa, when they face a tragedy like a plane crash or a shipping disaster. This calls for an international disaster relief agency under the aegis of the United Nations. Such a body could be formed by pooling resources of all member countries. This would make relief and rescue work more effective especially if it is in the vast oceans which involve the territorial jurisdictions of various nations and the intricacies of international law.