According to CNN, a student trapped inside the sunken ferry in South Korea sent a text message saying people were still alive inside the capsized and sinking vessel. “We’re not dead yet,” he wrote.

Does it get more horrifying than that?

The accuracy of that report is difficult to verify, but it certainly represents a possible scenario. People have survived other capsizings inside interior air pockets. 

Photos of the ferry, the Sewol, laying on its side before mostly sinking bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that ran aground off Italy in 2012. And, unfortunately, the chaotic and misdirected efforts to evacuate the passengers is also reminiscent of the Costa Concordia. Why were the passengers told to stay put when the vessel was clearly in trouble? Why weren’t they told to muster to areas from which they could abandon the vessel? 

And, like the Costa Concordia, the captain was one of the first off the boat. Other crewmembers surely died while trying to save passengers.

My heart goes out to all the families caught in this horrendous accident. I can’t image the frustration and despair of being the parent of a child still unaccounted for on that boat. And then the anger.

This month in WorkBoat magazine, correspondent Dale Dupont is looking into the suggestion that domestic ferries be required to carry voyage data recorders, which are often promoted by the National Transportation Safety Board here in the U.S. So far, I haven’t heard of such a “black box” on the South Korean ferry, but investigators – and relatives – will want to know everything possible about what was happening when the ferry ran into trouble. Perhaps a VDR could answer some questions and then help prevent further tragedies like this. 

With a degree in English literature from the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), journalism experience at the once-upon-a-time Seattle P-I, and at-sea experience as a commercial fisherman in Washington and Alaska, Bruce Buls has forged a career in commercial marine trade journalism, including stints at Alaska Fishermen’s Journal and National Fisherman, WorkBoat’s sister publications. Bruce spent 16 years as WorkBoat's technical editor before retiring in May 2015. He lives on Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island, about 20 miles north of Seattle (go 'Hawks!).