Safety woes to shut down Lotte Aquarium for now

December 17, 2014
Government officials inspect suspicions of leaking at the Lotte Aquarium. (Korea Times file)

Government officials inspect suspicions of leaking at the Lotte Aquarium. (Korea Times file)

By Jung Min-ho

The Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) ordered the second Lotte World Tuesday to suspend operations of its aquarium and theater amid heightened safety concerns.

It also ordered a halt to the construction of a concert hall following the death of a worker near the site the same day.

The move came after a series of safety issues, including cracks found in many of its venues, surfaced recently, which caused alarm among the public regarding the 123-story skyscraper in southeastern Seoul. Its construction is scheduled to be completed in 2016.

Operations and construction won’t be allowed to resume until the company comes up with proper safety measures, SMG said.

Yet the city government said it has no plan to order the shutdown of the tower “unless a critical problem, such as one that can pose a grave threat to the safety of people, is reported.”

“Otherwise, it will be difficult for us to order the shutdown,” an SMG official said.

Lotte apologized over the death of a 58-year-old man, only identified with his surname Kim, promising to prevent any similar accident from happening and doing proper repair works for the cracks.

Kim was found at around 1 p.m. on the eighth floor of Lotte World Mall.

With serious injuries to his skull, neck and left leg, he died while being taken to a nearby hospital. The cause of his death is still unknown.

Lotte Corp. CEO Lee Won-woo and Lotte Engineering & Construction President Kim Chi-hyun meet with the family of the deceased and apologized to them.

Yet what apparently worries people more than the problems is the company’s repeated attempts to cover them up.

Some people have alleged that Lotte did not make an emergency call immediately because officials had to discuss how to deal with the incident with regards to the media. In fact, it took more than 20 minutes for emergency service workers to arrive at the scene.

Police are investigating who found him first and made the first call.

Following disclosure last week that Lotte officials tried to cover up cracks found in its aquarium, public opinion turned sour quickly.

Before the issue came to light, they just blocked off the area around the leaking tank by putting up signs that read “cleaning” and “environmental improvement” to keep people away.

Experts warn that minor problems should be dealt with seriously because they could cause a massive disaster, given that there is a three-story underground 154,000 voltage transformer substation sitting right below the aquarium.

Only a day after the incident, another water leak in the ceiling of the basement floor was discovered. SMG later found a problem with water pipes’ rubber covering.

In the same week, firefighters hurried to a theater, located on the eighth floor of the tower after its screen and seating “shook hard.” The theater has been temporarily closed since.

SMG said it would conduct further intensive safety inspections of the theater.