SEOUL, April 29 (Xinhua) -- South Korean President Park Geun- hye made an official apology for the ferry sinking disaster Tuesday, the fourteenth day since the passenger ship Sewol capsized off the country's southwestern coast on April 16.
Park said during a cabinet meeting that she was "sorry to the people and heavy hearted that many precious lives were lost." It was her fifth official apology to the people since she took office in February last year, which came just two weeks after she apologized for evidence fabrication incident linked to spy agents.
"How should I apologize for the failure to prevent the accident in advance and for the insufficient initial response in order to comfort the pains and sufferings (of relatives of the victims) even for a moment," said Park.
Earlier in the day, Park visited the joint memorial altar in Ansan, a city south of Seoul where Danwon High School is, to mourn the victims. Two thirds of the 476 passengers were students of the high school and teachers on their way for a class trip.
As of Tuesday, at least 193 people have been confirmed dead, leaving 109 others still missing. No one has been rescued since 174 people were saved on April 16.
Prime Minister Chung Hong-won offered resignation Sunday to take responsibility for the government's response, but Park said she will accept the resignation offer after the incident is brought under control as rescue operations are the most urgent issue at present.
Park noted she should have made further efforts to normalize abnormal practices, including those in the shipping industry, saying she will make a new country where past wrong practices are normalized and people can live with an easy mind.
She pointed out retired governmental and regulatory officials who assume major posts in the shipping industry, saying such adhesion relationship between government and industry officials resulted in the ferry sinking disaster.
The president promised to create a tentatively named "National Safety Office," a control tower that will handle any large-scale accidents and adjust tasks of each ministry under the leadership of the prime minister's office.
Criticism spread over the government's confusing response to the ferry sinking disaster, unveiling misinformation on the number of passengers and rescued. Amid slower rescue operations, relatives of the missing sought to visit the presidential office from Jindo Island where the 6,825-ton ship sank, but it was blocked by police officers.
Park said earlier that everyone responsible for the disaster " will have to take criminal and civil responsibilities regardless of ranks," stressing that those responsible should be disclosed stage by stage.
The president has instructed prosecutors to investigate all processes from how the ship was imported and given a license, to whether the ship was modified, how often safety checks were made and how the sailing was approved.
Prosecutors arrested all of 15 sailors of the sunken ship, who have been blamed for their fleeing the ship without efforts to evacuate passengers. Most sailors, including the captain, were among the first to be rescued.
Investigators have raided the headquarters of the ship's operator Chonghaejin Marine and homes of the vessel's actual owner Yoo Byung-un and his families, while summoning officials from shipping watchdogs.
The 6,825-ton Sewol ferry departed around two and a half hours later than scheduled from the country's western port city of Incheon, where other ships delayed their departures due to a heavy fog.
The ship, which was built in Japan in 1994 and had no accidents for 18 years there, was modified by the ship's operator to expand passenger cabins and raise the total capacity, including crew, by 116 people to 956.
The 476 passengers aboard the ship were nearly half the maximum capacity, but it was offset by an overloaded cargo. The vessel was loaded with 180 cars and trucks and 1,157 tons of freight, far exceeding the reported figure of 150 vehicles and 657 tons of goods, respectively.
The ferry, which was en route to the southern resort island of Jeju, capsized and sank in the notorious waters for swift currents. When the ship began tilting heavily to one side, captain was not at the helm and the wheel was handed over to the third mate who controlled the ship in the waters for the first time.
S.Korean PM steps down for gov't response to ferry tragedy
SEOUL, April 27 (Xinhua) -- South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won offers resignation on Sunday over criticism of the government's response to the April 16 Sewol ferry disaster that has left nearly 300 people dead or missing.
"The right thing for me to do is to take responsibility and resign," Chung told a nationally-televised press conference, 11 days after one of the country's worst maritime disasters. Full Story
Floating objects slow recovering bodies from sunken S.Korean ferry
JINDO, South Korea, April 26 (Xinhua) -- Corridors and passenger cabins of the sunken South Korean ferry, which capsized off the country's southwestern coast, were jammed with floating objects, hampering search for bodies trapped inside the hull amid fast currents and bad weather.
As of Saturday night, 187 people have been confirmed dead, and 115 others remained missing. No one has been found alive since 174 passengers and crew were rescued on April 16 when the ferry sank en route to the southern resort island of Jeju from western port of Inchon. Full Story