Tahlequah Daily Press

May 2, 2014

Craven ferry captain writes a lesson for all parents to learn


TAHLEQUAH — It’s hard to imagine a ferry boat tragedy happening in the United States in the same way it happened two weeks ago in South Korea. Whatever went wrong with that boat, mechanical or otherwise, it’s clear a central reason for so many deaths was the selfish behavior of many of those who were supposed to be “in charge.” The cowardly and egocentric captain, Lee Jun-seok, saved his own skin, and so did many of his crew, while they urged their hapless passengers to remain where they were – and where they would ultimately drown.

The entire country of South Korea is emotionally devastated, mainly because 250 of the dead or missing are high school students, whose parents entrusted their care to the crew. And that’s why we say it’s hard to imagine an event unfolding in the same way here. Perhaps the people of South Korea will be more forgiving and merciful than we Americans would be, because in the latter scenario, we doubt Mr. Lee could find any corner of the world where he would be safe from the wrath of grieving parents.

This is a classic case of priorities gone wrong, and of misplaced trust in authority figures. When it comes to making a split-second decision that will either end in a heroic act or the death of the person making that decision, all too often, the “decider” puts his interests ahead of those who most need his help.

It shouldn’t be that way. Both tradition and human decency demanded that the captain and crew remain with their vessel and try to save as many lives as possible – especially when those lives belong to children. Compounding the atrocity was the news that apparently, the Coast Guard “rescuers” rushed to help Mr. Lee and his other staff from the sinking ferry, instead of trying to go below deck to save the trapped youngsters.

Lee and 14 other crew members have been arrested and charged with abandoning their passengers in an emergency. Authorities need to make an example of them so something like this never occurs again.

It’s likely that in coming weeks, we’ll learn safety protocols were violated – perhaps egregiously so – and that the callous activities of several adults cost many lives. We’ll see over and over again film clips of the craven 69-year-old captain, deserting his ship in his underpants. And we’ll cross ourselves and breathe prayers of thanks that this happened somewhere else, rather than in our own backyard.

There are lessons to be learned. Teach your children to think for themselves, and to act accordingly when instinct tells them danger is afoot. Trusting someone else to make vital decisions isn’t always the best way to go. Make sure they understand what to do in a variety of situations; for instance, all kids should be taught to swim.

And above all, when you place your children’s lives in the hands of any business, entity or institution, do some research beforehand. Does the entity come highly recommended? Is there a good safety record to back it up? What’s the history of this entity, and who’s running the show?

We can’t go through life paranoid, but we can be prudent and take certain steps to ensure our safety and that of our kids. We shouldn’t walk down dark alleys alone at night, we shouldn’t ingest poisonous substances, and if someone tells us to stay put when the water is rising, we need to turn a deaf ear.