Yangtze probe needs to nav­i­gate trou­bled wa­ters

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Trains, planes, au­to­mo­biles and ships, all great for get­ting from A to B when things go well, but po­ten­tially lethal when they don’t, as was the case onMon­day evening when a cruise ship, Eastern Star, sail­ing from Nan­jing to Chongqing cap­sized on the Yangtze River.

So far 18 peo­ple are con­firmed dead and 14 have been res­cued. How­ever, 424 are still un­ac­counted for. It is to be hoped that more sur­vivors are res­cued from the ves­sel; although the pos­si­bil­ity di­min­ishes the more time passes.

There has been much spec­u­la­tion about the cause of the tragedy, but as yet there has been no de­fin­i­tive ex­pla­na­tion of what hap­pened.

Early re­ports quote the sur­vivors as say­ing the ves­sel foundered in tor­ren­tial rain, and then cap­sized, which raises a num­ber of ques­tions which need an­swer­ing as more de­tails of what ex­actly hap­pened emerge.

What we do know is the ship turned over within a cou­ple of min­utes: Not much time for the crewto re­spond, and cer­tainly not enough time for most of the pas­sen­gers, who were mainly el­derly tourists, many of whom were prob­a­bly pre­par­ing to set­tle down for the night, to take any ac­tion to safe them­selves.

While the cause of the tragedy may be iden­ti­fied and the blame ap­por­tioned, it may also be that it was just an un­for­tu­nate con­cate­na­tion of cir­cum­stances that was be­yond any­one’s fore­sight or con­trol. Any­one who has watched Na­tional Geo­graphic’s Air­crash In­ves­ti­ga­tion will know that some­thing can snow­ball to have fa­tal con­se­quence.

Public trans­port ac­ci­dents are in­evitable, and be­cause of their na­ture they in­volve many peo­ple which am­pli­fies the tragedy in pro­por­tion to the num­ber of peo­ple in­volved. One only has to look at the re­cent crises in­volv­ing boat mi­grants where lit­tle at­ten­tion was given to the plight of th­ese refugees un­til their num­bers meant they could no longer be ig­nored.

And one only has to think of the Ti­tanic to re­al­ize the folly of the hubris of think­ing we can make our trans­port 100 per­cent fool­proof, es­pe­cially since it is usu­ally hu­man hubris, greed or fool­ish­ness some­where down the line that un­der­mines such claims.

But we can strive to make our trans­port as safe as pos­si­ble by hav­ing proper pro­ce­dures in place and su­per­vi­sion and en­force­ment to en­sure no eva­sions or short­cuts are taken that com­pro­mise pas­sen­gers’ safety.

And by learn­ing the lessons from the dis­as­ter, the na­tion can honor those that have died in this tragedy. That means con­duct­ing a thor­ough and trans­par­ent in­ves­ti­ga­tion to de­ter­mine ex­actly what hap­pened in the dark onMon­day evening on the Yangtze. It means let­ting the chips fall where they fall and hold­ing any­one found re­spon­si­ble accountable. And it means tak­ing ap­pro­pri­ate and ef­fec­tive mea­sures to ad­dress any safety is­sues iden­ti­fied.

No one can stop the hand of fate from writ­ing, but there is no rea­son to hand fate pa­per and pen.

The au­thor is a writer with China Daily.

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