May 19, 2014 11:30 am JST

S Korea president to dismantle Coast Guard over ferry disaster

SEOUL (Kyodo) -- South Korean President Park Geun Hye said Monday she will dismantle the Coast Guard in the wake of last month's ferry disaster that left more than 300 people, mostly high school students who were on a school excursion, either dead or missing.

     In a nationally televised address, Park also said she will establish a Ministry of National Safety in an effort to prevent such disasters from happening again in the future.

     Her speech came as rescue workers continue to search for 18 people still missing after the 6,825-ton ferry sank off the southwestern coast on April 16. Of the 476 people who on board when it went down, 172 were rescued while 286 bodies were recovered.

     "As the president responsible for the people's lives and safety, I offer whole-hearted apology for the sufferings of those people," Park said.

     The government has come under a storm of criticism from the public for inadequate and mismanaged rescue operations.
The public anger intensified after a widening probe found that authorities failed to take appropriate and swift measures in the early stages of the rescue operations.
     A string of corrupt practices by the ferry's operator and its links with the authorities were also uncovered.
Last Thursday, prosecutors charged four crew members, including the captain, with murder for having fled the sinking ship after telling the passengers to stay put inside.

     "Their irresponsible behaviors are virtually akin to the actions of murder," Park said in her speech Monday.
Her speech, made about one month after the Sewol disaster, is widely seen as an attempt to minimize the political fallout ahead of the local elections set for June 4.