Park has been hit hard by an angry nationwide outcry over the
government's response to South Korea's worst civilian maritime
disaster in 20 years and the seemingly slow and ineffective rescue
Polls show support for Park has dropped by more than 20 points since
the April 16 disaster.
"I apologize to the nation for the pain and suffering that everyone
felt, as the president who should have been responsible for the
safety and lives of the people," Park said in a televised national
address, her first since the Sewol capsized and sank with 476
passengers and crew on board.
In an unprecedented show of emotion, tears flowed as she fought back
sobs, remembering some of the teenagers who died trying to help one
another, calling the heroes.
Park, who is serving a single five-year term, is the daughter of
Park Chung-hee, the former military strongman who ruled for nearly
two decades in the 1960s and 1970s. She lost both her parents to
At least 286 people on board the Sewol were killed and 18 remain
missing. Only 172 people were rescued, with the rest presumed to
Of the passengers, 339 were children and their teachers on a
field trip from a high school on the outskirts of Seoul.
Park vowed sweeping reforms to improve oversight, as well as tough
punishment for bureaucrats and businesses whose negligence endangers
"A 20-year-old vessel was bought and refurbished to add excessive
capacity, then it was loaded with much more cargo than allowed with
a false reporting on weight, but not a single person in the position
to supervise stopped any of it," Park said.
She singled out structural problems within the coast guard as the
main reason why there was such a high casualty toll from an accident
that played out on national television as the vessel gradually sank
with most of the passengers trapped inside.
"Had there been an immediate and proactive rescue operation after
the accident, we would have been able to reduce the casualties,"
The coast guard's rescue duties would be transferred to a national
emergency safety agency to be set up and the national police will
take over its investigative function, she said.
CREW ABANDONED SHIP
Some of the crew, including the captain, were caught on videotape
abandoning ship while the children were repeatedly told to stay put
in their cabins and await further orders.
Park has apologized in person to many family members of the victims
but her administration has faced continued criticism for its
handling of the disaster.
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Park's public support has dropped to 46 percent, from 70 percent
before the accident, according to a recent poll. Her formal apology
and the blueprint for bureaucratic reform have been criticized for
coming too late, while her decision to break up the coast guard has
also been questioned.
"Although we need to integrate government functions on safety and
disaster management, dissolving the coast guard all of sudden can
make more problems that may be difficult to fix," said Professor Lee
Jun-han of Incheon National University.
South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy and one of its leading
manufacturing and export powerhouses, has developed into one of the
world's most vibrant and technically advanced democracies, but faces
criticism that regulatory controls and safety standards have not
An electrical device on a subway train exploded and shattered window
glass at a station in a satellite city south of Seoul on Monday,
injuring 11 passengers who were treated for cuts, media reported, in
the second incident involving the capital region's sprawling subway
network this month.
On May 2, two trains collided at a station injuring about 200 people
which authorities blamed on a defective signal switch.
Park said the coast guard had not only failed in its search and
rescue duty but that, in its current form, it would be unable to
prevent another large-scale disaster.
"The coast guard continued to get bigger in size but did not have
enough personnel and budget allocated for maritime safety, and
training for rescue was very much insufficient," she said.
All 15 surviving crew members were indicted last week, including the
captain and three senior crew members on homicide charges. The
remaining 11 crew were indicted for negligence.
The prosecution says the ferry was structurally defective after a
remodeling to add capacity and was massively overloaded with cargo.
A sharp turn then caused it to list and capsize.
The Sewol had been on a supposedly routine journey from the mainland
port of Incheon south to the holiday island of Jeju.
(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and Sohee Kim; Editing by
Choonsik Yoo and Nick Macfie)
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