I thought the captain was supposed to go down with the ship?

Launching a lifeboat during a mandatory drill.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, I’m referring to the recent ferry disaster in South Korea and it seems that this phrase may be more of a tradition than a law. I’ve been following this story since the sinking last week and every day that passes seems to bring more and more heartbreak. As of midafternoon on Wednesday, April 23rd, “152 people had been confirmed dead, while 150 others remained missing” (Yonhap News Reports).



We’ve all heard the phrase ‘the captain must go down with the ship’, however according to modern maritime laws, captains are only legally required to render assistance to every single person trying to evacuate the vessel and also to identify those who may have been killed in the incident. South Korea is a member of the International Maritime Organization and although it is not mandated for captains to stay on board during an emergency, rules suggest a captain is always responsible for the people on board (IMO spokesman, Lee Adamson).


Clearly, Captain Lee Joon-seok did nothing of the sort when he climbed into one of the very first lifeboats, just a half-hour after reporting the ship was going down. During his interview at the Mokpo Coast Guard Office, he said he feels “really sorry and deeply ashamed” (Curry, Colleen). Personally, I don’t buy it; how big of a coward do you have to be to flee the scene while others are fighting for their lives? He willingly accepted a task to sail nearly 500 people from one destination to another, well knowing it was his responsibility to take action during an emergency. Sure, the sinking may have been inevitable and out of his control, but it was his absolute legal and ethical obligation to take charge. Whether it was warning passengers and crew, making additional distress calls, or loading occupants onto lifeboats, he should never have abandoned his ship.


The South Korean President has already spoken out against the captain saying it was “like an act of murder than cannot and should not be tolerated” (Park Geun-hye to Yonhap News). I wholeheartedly agree and feel that Joon-seok should face severe charges. ‘The captain must go down with the ship’ may be a saying that no longer holds true, but Joon-seok failed to carry out his required duties, making him a fool in my eyes. In the end, he’s the one that has to live with his actions.


My sincerest thoughts go out to the victims and their families.