South Korea PM offers to resign over ferry disaster

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won holds himself responsible for government’s response to tragedy that’s left 300 dead or missing

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won holds himself responsible for government’s response to tragedy that’s left 300 dead or missing

SEOUL - South Korea’s Prime Minister offered to step down from his post Sunday, amid accusations that the government failed the victims of a ferry that sank off the country’s southwestern coast nearly two weeks ago.

"I'd like to apologize for the mishandling of a slew of problems, from preventive measures before the accident to the government's initial response and follow-up steps over the accident," Chung Hong-won told reporters.

With 302 people confirmed dead or still missing, Chung added: “Witnessing the pains of victims’ families and the grief and anger of the people, I think the right thing for me to do is to take all responsibility and resign."

President Park Geun-hye’s office said it will consider whether to accept the resignation or not.

Loved ones of the disaster’s victims have led criticism of the government for not acting swiftly enough to offer the 476 people – mostly high school students on a trip from Incheon to the resort island of Jeju - aboard the 6,825-ton Sewol the best chance of survival, having even initially overestimated the number of survivors by some margin.

South Korea’s main opposition party was quick to criticize the prime minister’s resignation during its own media briefing Sunday.

"His offer to resign alone at this critical juncture is an utterly irresponsible act and a cowardly attempt to evade the situation," said Ahn Cheol-soo, the co-leader of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy.

Families camping at a gymnasium on an island near the site where the ferry sank also reacted to the news, having already confronted Chung face-to-face a day after the disaster.

One insisted the PM “should have left far sooner over the government’s failure.”

Others suggested he “should first conclude the situation, regardless of whether he has done right or wrong."

Local media reports on Sunday suggested the presidential office would ask Chung to stay in his post until the accident had been cleared.

As the search for those caught in the submerged ferry’s wreckage continued for a twelfth day, the official death toll stood at 187, leaving 115 still unaccounted for.

The captain and 14 other crewmembers are under arrest on multiple charges, including negligence of duty for evacuating with hundreds of passengers still on board the vessel.

The Sewol’s owner company, Chonghaejin Marine, is also under investigation as police and prosecutors aim to discover the cause behind the accident on the morning of April 16.

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency