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The Sewol Ferry Incident

In light of the recent events, I have been asked about the Sewol Ferry and its connections to BTS, so here we go: heavy topics ahead.



Sensitive topics ahead!

If you are sensitive to the topics of death, disasters, or corruption, do NOT read on.


BTS Bangta money gif smell

You might have heard that BTS donated a large amount of money to the families of the victims of the Sewol Ferry incident. BTS were never one to shy away from controversies or politically sensitive subjects. This comeback is no different. The song 'Spring Day' and the music video seem to reference the Sewol Ferry Incident.

In this post I'll tell you about the Sewol incident, what it means for Koreans and why it's a huge deal that BTS donated money to the cause!


The Sewol Ferry Incident


On the 16th of April 2014, a ferry by the name of Sewol capsized and sank.

Most of the passengers on the Sewol Ferry that day were high school students from Danwon High School, who were on a field trip to Jeju island.

304 passengers and crew members died.

The ferry carried a total of 476 people when it capsized, leaving only 172 alive.

Below is a class photo of some of the Sewol survivors with their classmates who did not survive.

The Sewol Ferry Capsizing Incident Full Account

One of the survivors was Kang Minkyu, the vice principal of Danwon High School, who committed suicide a few days after the disaster and wrote in his suicide note:

"[...] Scatter my ashes at the site of the sunken ferry so that in the afterlife I may become a teacher to my students who have not been rescued."

The incident shook South Korea to the core.

It was not just because the fact that 250 high school students passed away in the tragedy, but because of the circumstances that led to the incident in the first place, and because of a serious failure to handle the incident from rescuers and the government.


The Incident


The Sewol Ferry was a ferry that sailed from Incheon to Jeju Island three times a week.

The Sewol Ferry Capsizing Incident Full Account map

Roughly a 14 hour trip.

Ever since it first started operating on the line in 2013, its regular captain reported that the ship had navigational problems and steering problems.

On the 15th of April 2014 (the night before the ferry sank), there was heavy fog in Incheon. After two and a half hour delay, the ferry left anyways; the only ship to leave port that evening.

The usual Captain did not sail on the Ferry and instead a replacement Captain was in charge.

The Ferry sailed throughout the night, but the problem only arose when morning came.

The Captain wasn't on the bridge for most of the morning. In command was Third Mate Park Hangyeol who had one year of prior experience.

During the morning the Sewol Ferry entered the Maenggol Channel. A shallow channel known for severe underwater currents. It was the Third Mate's first time steering through the channel.

I'll repeat: the Captain was not on the bridge.

The Sewol Ferry Capsizing Incident Full Account Spring Day BTS Bangtan

At 8:48 the Third Mate came to believe that they were on a collision course with another ship. The Third Mate gave the order to turn, first a five degree turn and then an additional five degree turn.

Instead of taking the turns one at a time, the equally inexperienced Helmsman executed the orders as they came in and made a ten degree turn, immediately. A turn much too great for the ship to handle.

The Third Mate ordered the ship to be brought back, to restore balance, but the helmsman was flustered, and turned the wheel even more. Then the ship began to tilt.

The Sewol Ferry Capsizing Incident Full Account

Problems with the Sewol Ferry


In its early years, from 1994 to 2012, the Sewol Ferry sailed for a Japanese company and when it was auctioned off in 2012, it had already been sailed hard for 18 years and was in a sorry state.

It needed repairs.

And it got repairs, but with a "little" illegal redesign.

To increase the passenger capacity, additional passenger decks were added to the upper deck levels. This added 187 tons to the Ferry's total weight, but more importantly it shifted the gravitational point of the ship's weight.

Now I'm going to go under the assumption that many of you reading this aren't sailors or ship builders, so as a passionate sailor myself, I'm going to attempt to explain why this is so significant, with a very short physics lesson.

short tall cardboard boxes weight distribution

If pushed, which of the two boxes to the right will be most likely to fall over? The tall one, right? It's the same principal for a boat, which is why if you're in a small sailing boat, you should always sit down to make it more stable on the water.

Do you see the issue now? By adding so much weight to the top of the ship, they turned it into a tall box, which meant that it swayed more, didn't rest as well in the water, and this in turn impaired the ability to steer the ship properly.

Adding too much cargo, did the same thing again, and worsened the odds. They were sailing with three times the permitted cargo when the ship tipped. Three times!

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​Despite the illegal modifications, the South Korean Registry of Shipping approved the Sewol Ferry for service and demanded that the ferry sail with 2000 tons of water as ballast to improve balance.

Which, of course they didn't do.

Just writing this is making me angry...


Why did it capsize?


On February 2014, mere months before the ship capsized and sank, the Sewol Ferry passed a Safety Inspection by the South Korean Coastal Guard. And yet it happened.

So why?

Seokjin Jin hd gid I think I cried

1. Inexperienced crew members had the command while navigating problematic waters

A responsible captain would have been on the bridge when they began to sail up the narrow channel, and would have stayed there until they were through.

2. A sharp turn was made

The inexperienced crew members panicked when their radar showed that they might be on a collision course with another ship, and as result ordered the ship to turn at a sharp angle (more than 5 degrees, which would be the maximum for this ship, especially in such troubled waters).

3. Problems steering

Because the situation required immediate response (a possible collision with another ship) and the crew were inexperienced, the helmsman panicked when the steering equipment didn't function smoothly, and ended up making an even sharper turn. The reason the steering equipment didn't function well was likely because of the weight issues due to the illegal modifications.

4. The weight distribution on the ship was off because of the illegal modifications

This meant that the ship didn't rest as securely in the water, so it wasn't predisposed to recover from such a sharp swing.

RM Kim Namjoon Run gif hd BTS Bangtan

5. It carried too much cargo

it carried three times more cargo than it was allowed to carry. This meant that when the ship started tipping, the extra weight of the cargo made everything happen all the quicker and made it nearly impossible to recover from.

6. The ballast was only a forth of what it was supposed to be

Again this meant that she ship didn't rest properly in the water and was at high risk of capsizing at any relatively big turn. Especially with such a huge increase in cargo, having the proper ballast is crucial.

7. The engines were turned off

After the ship began to tip, the Chief Engineer turned off the engines, which meant that an attempt at turning the ship back was impossible.

The Sewol Ferry Capsizing Incident Full Account

How did so many people die?


The ship was equipped with 46 lifeboats which could each carry 45 people. It was plenty to rescue the 467 people onboard. So why did so many die?

During the first 15 minutes after the ship began to tilt, a time during which immediate action should have been taken, not a lot of action was actually taken, and none of the action taken was right, according to standard safety measures.

The Captain reported to the bridge, as did the other ship mates and helmsmen. The Chief engineer turned off the motors and ordered an evacuation of the engine rooms. But with the engines off, the ship could no longer shift direction and attempt to recover itself, despite the tilt.

Soon after the ship began to tilt, the communications officer instructed passengers to stay put.

"It's dangerous if you move, so just stay where you are."

He had not consulted the safety manual and most passengers did as they were asked. The order was repeated by crew members and the captain too, even as the crew were abandoning ship!

The Sewol Ferry Capsizing Incident Full Account J-Hope lyrics quote Stay There A little bit more Spring Day

It is incredibly alarming that the first emergency came, not from the crew, but from a high school student, Choi Dukha, who was clever enough to call the emergency number within the first few minutes and report that the Sewol ferry was capsizing!

Thanks to this student's quick thinking, rescue was sent within 8 minutes of the incident, but the student himself did not survive.

Three entire minutes after Dukha had made the call, the crew made their first distress call (and to the wrong costal guard), but thanks to Choi Dukha, a patrol boat was already on the way.

The next 35 minutes onboard, a time that should have been focused on safe and orderly evacuation and rescue, the captain was instead in contact with the company who owned the Sewol Ferry, to report on the situation to them.

The Sewol Ferry Capsizing Incident Full Account

Meanwhile the ship was sinking

During this time the crew were also in contact with the local VTS (Vessel Traffic Service) who provided guidance: