South Korean President Park Geun-hye apologized on Tuesday for the government’s “poor initial response” to the sinking of the Sewol ferry, as prosecutors began questioning the chief executive of the company that owned and operated the vessel.
The President’s apology was made at a Cabinet meeting, where she also proposed to launch a new ministry to supervise safety affairs. Earlier, she paid her respects at a memorial altar in Ansan, a city that lost some 260 students and teachers in the disaster. During the visit, she promised a man kneeling in front of her to make sure this kind of incident wouldn’t happen again, Yonhap news agency reports.
Government agencies, crew members and the ferry’s owner have come under fierce criticism for the disaster, which left 302 people either dead or missing. Prime Minister Chung Hong-won offered to resign on Sunday and is expected to stand down after the recovery operation comes to a conclusion.
Two recently released videos have fueled criticism, as they show crew members telling passengers in the tilting ship to stay where they are, and the coast guard helping the captain off the boat at an early stage of the rescue operation.
“Everyone was wearing a life vest, so we couldn’t tell who was passenger and who was crew,” coast-guard captain Kim Kyung-il told reporters.
Strong currents are hampering recovery efforts, but divers have managed to enter the lower half of the passenger decks. Of the 64 cabins most likely to contain bodies, 38 have so far been searched, rescue-team spokesman Ko Myung-seok told the Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, Kim Han-sik, the chief executive of Chonghaejin Marine Co., which owned and operated the Sewol, was brought before the Incheon Prosecutor’s Office on Tuesday morning. The company's owner, reclusive tycoon Yoo Byung-eun, is also being investigated for embezzlement, dereliction of duty, tax evasion and bribery, and his daughter and son have been asked by the authorities to return to the country to face questioning.