Monday 19 February 2018

South Korea's PM quits over ferry tragedy

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won has offered to resign over the government's handling of a ferry sinking
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won has offered to resign over the government's handling of a ferry sinking
South Korean ferry "Sewol" is seen sinking in the sea off Jindo
A girl takes part in a candlelight vigil in Ansan, to commemorate the victims of the sunken passenger ship Sewol and to wish for the safe return of missing passengers

Tom Phillips in Shanghai

South Korea's prime minister, Chung Hong-won, has offered to resign following withering criticism of the government's handling of the ferry disaster that has plunged a nation into mourning and claimed at least 188 lives.

The Sewol ferry was carrying 476 people, the majority of them schoolchildren, when it sank on April 16 while travelling to the tourist island of Jeju, off the country's south-west coast.

Yesterday the official death toll stood at 188, with at least 114 still missing.

Amid mounting criticism of the government's response, Mr Chung apologised "for many problems – from the prevention of the accident to the early handling of the disaster".

"I offer my apology for having been unable to prevent this accident from happening and unable to properly respond to it afterwards. I believed I, as the prime minister, certainly had to take responsibility and resign," he said.

"There have been so many varieties of irregularities that have continued in every corner of our society and practices that have gone wrong. I hope these deep-rooted evils get corrected this time and this kind of accident never happens again."


Park Geun-Hye, South Korea's president, said she would accept Mr Chung's resignation from the largely ceremonial role once the situation had "been brought under control".

However, relatives and rival politicians criticised the move. Ahn Cheol-soo, the co-leader of South Korea's main opposition party, labelled it "not only utterly irresponsible but also cowardly".

Search teams restarted their treacherous hunt for victims yesterday after strong winds had forced them to suspend operations for more than 11 hours.

Battling fierce currents, murky water and even decompression sickness, the divers focused their attentions on the ferry's third and fourth decks where most victims are believed to have perished.

Divers had searched nearly half of the ferry's 111 compartments for bodies, officials said.

All 15 members of the Sewol's crew have now been arrested.

The arrested crew members are accused of negligence and of failing to help passengers in need. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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