South Korean President Park Geun-hye apologised on Tuesday for her government’s failure to prevent a ferry disaster that left some 300 people dead or missing.
Two days after her prime minister resigned over the tragedy, Park voiced profound regret at the systemic and regulatory failings that contributed to the capsize of the 6,825-tonne Sewol on April 16.
“I feel so regretful for having been unable to correct such long-running evils and letting an accident like this take place,” she said in a statement to her cabinet that was broadcast on national television.
The apology came as divers on Tuesday fought strong currents in their search for more than 100 missing passengers. The government has raised the death toll on what has become a point of national mourning and shame to 193. Most of the dead and missing are high school students.
Park’s government has been widely criticised over perceived corruption and lax safety standards that may have led to the disaster, with claims that the ferry was overloaded and that the passenger list was inaccurate and incomplete.
Officials have taken into custody all 15 people involved in navigating the ferry. The seven surviving crew members who have not been arrested or detained held non-marine jobs such as chef or steward, according to senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin.
Relatives of the more than 100 passengers still missing have also blasted the response to the sinking, saying delays in launching the rescue had cost lives.
“I don’t know how to apologise for the failure to prevent this accident, and for the insufficient first response,” Park said.
“I am sorry to the people and heavy-hearted that many precious lives were lost,” she added.
Earlier on Tuesday, the president had travelled to Ansan, just south of Seoul where she paid her respects to a memorial for the hundreds of schoolchildren who died in the disaster.
Of the 476 people on board the Sewol, 325 were students from the same high school in Ansan. Only 75 of them were rescued.