Death by negligence

May 21, 2014 - 1:06:09 am

Transport disasters are a result of weak links in administrative structures that lead to lax enforcement of safety norms.

A number of accidents involving different modes of transport recently have drawn worldwide attention. First, it was the disappearance of Malaysia Airline MH370 that rivetted international attention to the plight of the 239 passengers and crew members. The flight is still untraced. Then, the sinking of a ferry in South Korea claimed close to 300 lives, most of them children. Last week, scores of people were killed in Bangladesh when a ferry capsized in a river. In Colombia, 33 children were charred to death on Sunday when their bus suddenly went up in flames, sending the Latin American nation into mourning. 

Besides attracting global headlines, what these accidents have in common is that they are involved administrative laxity before or after the disaster, and there was a perceived laxity in enforcing rules.  MH370, which would probably become the only aircraft in commercial aviation’s history to go missing without any clue, has intrigued the world like no other incident. Theories abound about the loss of the Malaysia Airline Boeing 777. A newly-written book says that the aircraft was accidentally shot down during a military exercise and the Malaysian government tried to suppress the fact. 

The scale of the South Korean ferry disaster was substantial. What made the tragedy all the more galling was that the lives of close to 300 children were sucked out. It has now been revealed that prompt action by coast guard would have saved many lives. President Park Geun-hye was in tears on Monday while apologising to her countrymen and acknowledging that better rescue by the authorities wouldn’t have made scores of children meet such a dreadful fate — Park recounted amid sobs how some teenagers perished trying to help one another. 

Boat capsizes in Bangladesh are not uncommon. Not many months pass when we hear of one boat tragedy or the other claiming scores of lives in the impoverished Ganga delta country that is criss-crossed by numerous rivers and where water transport is a popular but highly unorganised activity. Years of neglect by the government and a failure to learn from so many ferry disasters have made thousands of commuters vulnerable. However, Dhaka has failed to take adequate measures to stop boat operators taking on more passengers and violating basic safety norms.

Colombia is mourning the death by burning of 33 children in a bus fire reportedly sparked by the driver trying to tank up with a jerry can. The driver did not have a driving licence and the bus did not pass the mandatory technical inspection. President Juan Manuel Santos, who is running for a second term in an election on Sunday, has been caught on the wrong foot by the opposition. The opposition says the accident showed the backwardness of the country.  Transport tragedies show weaknesses in structures of governance and laxity in enforcing rules at the ground level. So, it is for taking remedial action that South Korea has decided to disband its Coast Guard.