Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Yangtze probe needs to navigate troubled waters

By Hannay Richards (China Daily) Updated: 2015-06-04 07:33

Yangtze probe needs to navigate troubled waters

Premier Li listens to the report of the accident on the plane flying to the site on Tuesday. [Photo provided for China Daily]

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 on Monday 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 crew to 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 on Monday 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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