Earlier this year a memorial was unveiled to commemorate the heroic action of the crew and the soldiers onboard HMS Birkenhead which sank off South Africa in February 1852. The protocol of women and children first has been adopted ever since and is known as the ‘Birkenhead Drill’. However, this has not always been followed.

On 8th April 1961 the 5,030grt British India liner Dara sank in the Persian Gulf, as a result of a powerful explosion that caused the deaths of 238 of the 819 persons on board at the time of the voyage, including 19 officers and 113 crew. The explosion is believed to have been caused by a deliberately placed explosive device, planted by an Omani rebel group or individual insurgents. The launching of the lifeboats was chaotic in the rough seas, with one witness describing an overcrowded lifeboat overturning due to the height of the waves. There was widespread panic as his blazing ship was abandoned, although the subsequent inquiry exonerated all the officers.

Thirty years later on 4th August 1991 the 14,000gt cruise ship Oceanos belonging to Epirotiki Lines of Greece sank off South Africa. Captain Yiannis Avranas and the crew were criticized by passengers for leaving hundreds behind with no one other than the ship’s onboard entertainers to help them evacuate. Avranas claimed that he left the ship first to arrange for a rescue effort, and then supervised the rescue from a helicopter. A Greek board of inquiry found Avranas and four officers negligent in their handling of the disaster.

Nearly three years ago, the infamous Costa Concordia sank with the captain making an early departure from the ship. As I write this his trial is taking place in an Italian court.

The adverse publicity that Captain Scettino received should have been enough to put off any other captain from leaving his ship without ensuring the safety of his passengers first, but no.

On 16th April of this year the South Korean ferry Sewol sank with the loss of over 300 lives. The acting captain of the Sewol was Lee Jun-Seok. He, the chief engineer, as well as the chief and second mates were the first people to be rescued.

On 15th May, Captain Lee Jun-Seok, First Mate Kang Won-sik, Second Mate Kim Young-Ho, and Chief Engineer Park Gi-Ho were indicted on charges of homicide through gross negligence. The other eleven crew members face lesser charges of abandoning the ship and ship safety offences.

Let’s hope they get the penalty they deserve for not sticking to the Birkenhead Drill.

I would like to wish all our readers a very Happy Christmas.

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