Our final look back at 2014: mainly domestic news stories from South Korea:
The Sewol and safety culture
- The MV Sewol capsized on 16 April, causing the death of 304 passengers.
- A number of factors contributed to the disaster, including lax safety inspections, unsafe modifications, unsecured cargo, overloading, and an inexperienced crew hired on temporary contracts.
- The rescue efforts came under criticism, too
- The captain, who abandoned ship leaving passengers on board, was sentenced to 36 years in prison
- There was a logjam in the National Assembly while politicians struggled to agree the scope of the investigation
- Yoo Byung-eun, the chief of the chaebol which owned the ferry operation was found dead in a Jeollanam-do field in June, but was only identified 6 weeks later. Outside of his business interests he headed a religious sect and pursued interests as a wildlife photographer. He had also commissioned a symphony from Michael Nyman
- Other disasters raised questions about Korea’s public safety:
- Sinkholes and cracks started appearing in the roads around the new Lotte World Tower skyscraper
- A fire in a Jeolla hospice killed 21 and injured 8
- A fire at a bus terminal in Goyang, Geonggi-do, killed 6
- An arsonist set fire to a Seoul subway train on line 3
- On the plus side, all passengers were rescued when a cruise ship ran aground off South Jeolla province at the end of September
- Hyundai Motor splurged around $10 billion on the site for a new headquarters complex in Gangnam. They also invested a lot of money in Superbowl advertisements and announced a programme to support Britain’s Tate Modern with commissions and acquisitions which complements its 10-year sponsorship at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea
- Samsung’s Lee Kun-hee suffered from a heart attack in May and spent the rest of the year in hospital
- Three credit card companies – KB Kookmin Card, Lotte Card and NH Card – had their business suspended for three months for “complacency” in their mishandling of customer data.
- A long-running feud over software at KB Financial Group led to the bank’s chief executive officer resigning and official punishments for both the group chairman and the CEO raised.
- Plastic surgery patients might want to check what goes on in Gangnam clinics:
- The public was outraged at an eccentric proposal for controlling the river rat population.
- A Burmese beauty queen fell out with the organisers of a Korean beauty contest, alleging that she had been expected to undergo plastic surgery and provide escort services to businessmen. She returned to Burma with her $100,000 crown.
- 75 Indian farmers came to Korea purportedly to attend a religious conference and promptly vanished.
- Jeju’s Chief Prosecutor resigned after allegations of public indecency.
Bullying, misconduct and worse
- “Nut Rage” entered the English vocabulary thanks to the reprehensible actions of Cho Hyun-ah, “heiress” to the Korean Air chairman. She has now resigned from her post as director of in-flight service and faces prosecution.
- An abused security guard set himself alight after being mistreated by residents at a Gangnam apartment block.
- Internal conflict at the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra prompted the resignation of their CEO amid allegations that she had sexually assaulted staff.
- In the army,
- A female officer who committed suicide following sexual harassment was ruled to have died while on duty
- A sergeant killed five soldiers, wounded seven others, and tried to commit suicide after being taunted and ostracized
- Prosecutors charged four soldiers with murder following the death of a conscript whom they subjected to systematic beatings
- A general was arrested for sexually assaulting a female officer
- A soldier revealed that he had been in a coma for 19 months because of a beating by superior officers
Other domestic news
- A government study predicted that South Korea would become extinct by 2750 if current birthrate trends are maintained.
- A meteorite exploded over Hamyang and Sancheong Counties in Gyeongsangnam-do, showering the Jinju area with fragments.
- A papal visit brought a brief respite from the darker stories of the year.
- The Constitutional Court disbanded the leftist Unified Progressive Party (UPP) in a move that Amnesty International called a “sign of shrinking space for freedom of expression“.
- Kakao Talk suffered an outflow of customers over privacy concerns as the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office announced the establishment of a team designed to prevent cyber defamation.
- Auction houses completed the sale of Chun Doo-hwan’s art collection, raising 7.3 billion won to pay off some of the former president’s fines which amount to 167 billion.