South Korea ferry disaster

South Korean PM resigns over government response to ferry disaster

Chung Hong-won admits he was not up to the task of overseeing rescue operation after Sewol sank, blaming corruption and 'deep-rooted evil'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 April, 2014, 9:14am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 5:17pm

South Korea's prime minister resigned yesterday, blaming corruption and "deep-rooted evil" for the sinking of a passenger ferry that left 300 people dead or missing, as anger grows over the bungled response to the tragedy.


Chung Hong-won admitted he had not been up to the task of overseeing rescue operations after the Sewol capsized with 476 people - many of them schoolchildren - on board.

"I offer my apology for having been unable to prevent this accident from happening and unable to properly respond to it afterwards," he said.

"I believed I, as the prime minister, certainly had to take responsibility and resign."

Parents and relatives of the missing and the dead have blasted the response to the sinking, saying delays in launching the rescue had cost lives.

There has also been rage over perceived corruption and lax safety standards that may have led to the disaster, with claims that the ferry was overloaded and the passenger list was inaccurate and incomplete.

"Looking at the latest accident I came to a painful realisation that there is too much deep-rooted evil and corruption in our society," Chung said.

"I hope that such wrongdoings will be rooted out this time so that an accident like this will never happen again."

The role of prime minister is largely ceremonial in South Korea, with the lion's share of executive power vested in the presidency of Park Geun-hye.

Park had decided to accept Chung's resignation but only after the government finished the entire rescue and salvage operation, her spokesman said.

In Jindo, the nearest island to the wreck, relatives of the dead and missing were unimpressed at Chung's move.

"So what?" snapped Ji Hyung-soo. "My son is there in the sea. [Chung's] resignation will never ease my bitterness and sadness.

"Anybody responsible for this disaster must be punished severely, but the most urgent thing to do now is to recover the bodies as soon as possible. I'm not interested in anything else."

Prosecutors looking to mete out the justice sought by relatives such as Ji raided the offices of state sea traffic controllers on Jeju island yesterday, the Sewol's intended destination, and in Jindo.

They seized records of radio communication with the Sewol and surveillance video footage, Yonhap said. A transcript of conversations released earlier revealed panic and indecision among crew and sea traffic controllers in the crucial final moments, with neither able to make the call to evacuate passengers.

The confirmed death toll from the tragedy stood yesterday at 188, barely changed in two days. A total of 114 people are still unaccounted for, with many bodies believed trapped in the sunken vessel. Divers were battling decompression sickness, high waves and strong winds in their grim search for corpses.

Yonhap, citing one rescue worker, said divers were having to blindly stick their hands into clumps of floating objects to fumble for bodies.

On the surface, recriminations continued, with four more of the ship's crew arrested on Saturday. All 15 surviving crew members responsible for sailing the vessel are now in custody on charges ranging from criminal negligence to abandoning passengers.