South Korean Ferry Sewol: School and Company

I have stated before that I do not like to negatively judge organizations for communicating during a crisis. It is too easy to judge from a distance and in hindsight. But sometimes there is an event that shows exactly why preparing for crisis is so important. Sometimes criticism is warranted.

The communications surrounding the recent (2014) South Korea ferry disaster were atrocious. This story is so ridiculous that it requires multiple blog posts.

The School

Many of the parents of the students from Ansan Danwon High School went to the school to wait for word about their loved ones. At one point early in the crisis the school announced that everyone had been saved. The school later rescinded that statement, causing extreme distress to the parents.


One of the most basic rules of crisis communication is that no organization should ever state that people are alive or dead until the information has been confirmed beyond doubt. Making an error in this respect is a quick way to lose credibility and public sympathy.

It is important to note that the administration at the school is also likely going through extreme grief. They will likely be forgiven, and their error has already fallen by the wayside in the media coverage of the tragedy.

The Company

The CEO of Chonghaejin Marine Co., which owned and operated the ship, made only a brief public appearance. He apologized and stated “I committed a sin punishable by death . . . I am at a loss for words. I am sorry. I am sorry.”


Apologizing was likely a good message to communicate, especially considering South Korean culture. However, this message did nothing to help fill the void of uncertainty enhance in this crisis. Chonghaejin Marine Co. probably does not have the resources to assist in the recovery effort anyway, but informing the public that they will cooperate with any investigation might have helped. To compound the issue, all of the top executives and shareholders in the company have been ordered not to leave the country. As it stands, Chonghaejin Marine Co. looks guilty.