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What can we learn from recent transportation disasters in the Far East?


Fri Apr 25, 2013

The tragic news of the two incidents in the Far East, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives has dominated the airwaves over the past six weeks. Though physically far removed from the Caribbean, the two incidents have been closely followed in our region.{{more}} That is not at all surprising, given the island nature of this area, which requires daily air and sea travel in order for us to go about our daily business. For this reason, Caribbean people are very concerned when we hear of accidents and incidents arising out of air and sea travel.

The Malaysian Airline flight MH 370 has simply vanished from view since March 8 and has so far defied all efforts to trace its whereabouts and to ascertain what went wrong, resulting in the death of some 239 persons. Before we could even begin to come to grips with this, a South Korean ferry sank with close to 200 persons presumed to have perished.

While we express our sorrow and offer commiserations, it is nonetheless important for us, as a people who must use either air or sea routes to travel to other countries, to try and learn as much as we can from such incidents. Indeed, in the case of St Vincent and the Grenadines, we must use both forms of transport even to travel within our country, to the Grenadine islands to be exact.

As regards the ferry sinking, for us in these islands, the critical issue of safety of passengers must be foremost. There are regulations governing safety at sea, even if these are not very familiar to prospective passengers. But, we are forced to wonder, are these regulations adequate, and crucially, are they enforced and monitored strictly? In addition to regular ferry service between the islands, we also have a number of excursions and boat rides. Are the regulations governing safety measures (passenger load, adequate lifeboat availability etc), observed in such cases? We say this not to be alarmist or to raise doubt, but purely in a precautionary sense.

Where the aircraft disappearance is concerned, it is clear that there have been serious errors in communication. This is so both in regard to tracing what happened to the airplane and moreso, the communication with the relatives of those on board. What does that have to do with us?

Well, we are very dependent on air travel between the islands, especially by the regional carrier LIAT. That airline has served us well for over half a century, but no one can deny that it has formidable challenges. Some of these are quite understandable and would require time, patience and investment to get them right, but there are others that are well in the realm of correction without any new injection of resources.

Communication is an obvious area. Following the glitches of the handlers of MH 370, one cannot help but press the LIAT authorities to make every effort to improve in this area. Sometimes passengers and those waiting on them are not given sufficient consideration in the provision of relevant information, nor are their inconvenience and discomfort taken into consideration. This can only increase frustration and tension on all sides. We saw how that affected the relatives of those on MH 370.

Each tragedy has lessons on which we can draw to improve our own lives. Can we use these huge ones to learn from any mistakes and put measures in place so as to be better prepared to avoid, or to face any such disasters which may occur?