Seoul: The South Korean government is scrambling to fix what the prime minister calls the "deep-rooted evils" that contributed to last month`s ferry sinking, which left more than 300 people dead or missing.
As investigators probe cosy links between the shipping industry and its regulators, Seoul has promised new monitoring and regulations for domestic passenger ships, which are not governed by international rules.
The ministry says all information about passengers will be processed electronically beginning in June, with similar changes for vehicles and cargo beginning in July. The measures are meant to fix a system that produced uncertainty about how many people were on the Sewol when it sank, and especially about the amount of cargo it was carrying.
Under the current system, passengers write down their names, genders, birthdays and contact numbers. Many people, including cargo truck drivers who use ferries on monthly passes, didn`t bother filling them out. Authorities believe 476 people were on the Sewol when it sank, and only 174 of them are known to have survived.
Records about the Sewol`s cargo, meanwhile, appear to have been inaccurate. A coast guard official said the captain reported 150 vehicles and 657 tons of cargo, but an official with the company that loaded the vessel`s cargo said it was carrying much more: 3,608 tons.
The ministry said passengers` ID cards will be checked by officials from the ship`s operator and ferry terminal, a measure that has often been skipped. Terminal operators will be ordered to better control ferry port entrances.
Local TV stations have shown long lines of passengers at Jeju terminal as coast guard officials check the ID cards of passengers. The report said the coast guard has increased the number of officials present at the port, but it`s unclear whether that`s a permanent measure. Currently, there`s only one coast guard officer present at the Incheon terminal, and the officer`s main tasks are anti-terrorism and enforcing safety.
Black boxes that record date, time, ship location, speed, direction, weather and communications on the bridge will be installed on domestic ferries. Currently, only international ferries and freight vessels more than 3,000 tons are required to have the device, also known as a voyage data recorder. If one had been installed on the Sewol, it could have helped investigators check ship operations against testimony from the crew.