Captain’s Duties in a Ferry Boat Disaster

The April 16 South Korean ferry disaster killed more than 300 passengers.  About 80 percent of those people were innocent high school students. Apparently, the captain and crew caused the ferry to sink by improperly stowing and overloading cargo. Their failure to protect their passengers was also seen as negligent.

Captains have a duty to those aboard their ship.  While many believe the old mantra “women and children first,” that is not the standard any longer.  For US-flagged vessels, the answer can be found in 46 US Code Section 2303, Duties Related to Marine Casualty Assistance and Information:

“Under this statute, the master in charge of the vessel in a marine casualty shall give necessary assistance to each passenger to save that passenger from danger caused by the marine casualty so far as the master in charge can do so without serious danger to the master’s vessel or to the other passengers on board.”

However, South Korea has enacted and signed the International Safety of Life at Sea Convention.  This Convention requires that passenger ships, such as ferries, have emergency management systems in place.  The objectives of this Convention were to ensure the international safety of passengers at sea, to prevent human injury and loss of life, and to avoid damage to the marine environment and property.  This Convention also provides that marine passenger ships SHOULD (but are not required to) provide for safe operation and safe working environments, assess all risks to its ships and establish appropriate safeguards, and continuously improve safety management skills of personnel ashore and aboard ships (this includes preparing for emergencies).

The duty of a captain in the US is higher than that of a foreign captain.  All attorneys know that there is a HUGE difference in the words “shall” and “should.”  “Shall” means “MUST” while “should” only means “may” or “you should aspire to but are not required to.”

If you have been injured on a passenger ship, it is important to seek an attorney with knowledge of maritime law rules and regulations, both domestic and international.   If you have been injured on the water call an experienced maritime/admiralty attorney to protect your rights and ensure you get the compensation you deserve.

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