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SKorean PM resigns over ferry sinking

South Korean Prime Minister Resigns Over Ferry

JINDO, South Korea (AP) - South Korea's president accepted her prime minister's resignation Sunday over the government's handling of a deadly ferry sinking, although she didn't set a last day in office. In an extraordinary resignation statement to reporters, the prime minister blamed "deep-rooted evils" in society for a tragedy that has left more than 300 people dead or missing and led to widespread shame, fury and finger-pointing.

The resignation comes amid rising indignation over claims by the victims' relatives that the government didn't do enough to rescue or protect their loved ones. Most of the missing and dead were high school students on a school trip. Officials have taken into custody all 15 people involved in navigating the ferry that sank April 16, and a prosecutor revealed that investigators are also looking into communications made as the ferry sank between a crew member and the company that owns the ship.

South Korean executive power is largely concentrated in the president, Park Geun-hye, so the resignation by Prime Minister Chung Hong-won appears to be symbolic. Min Kyung-wook, a presidential spokesman, told reporters that Park would accept the resignation but didn't say when Chung would leave.

Chung was heckled by relatives and his car was blocked when he visited a shelter on an island near the site of the sinking a week ago. On Sunday, he gave his reasoning for the resignation offer to reporters in Seoul.

"As I saw grieving families suffering with the pain of losing their loved ones and the sadness and resentment of the public, I thought I should take all responsibility as prime minister," Chung 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."

Meanwhile, senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said Sunday that two helmsmen and two members of the steering crew had been formally arrested. They join 11 other crew members, including the captain, in detention.

Yang also said that a crew member called the ship's owner, Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd., as the ferry was listing April 16 but declined to disclose whether the caller was the captain. Local media reported that the captain called for company approval of an evacuation. Prosecutors said they are analyzing the content of communications between the ship and the company.

The arrested crew members are accused of negligence and of failing to help passengers in need. The captain initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and took half an hour to issue an evacuation order, by which time the ship was tilting too severely for many people to get out.

Divers have recovered 188 bodies and 114 people are believed to be missing, though the government-wide emergency task force has said the ship's passengers list could be inaccurate. Only 174 people survived, including 22 of the 29 crew members.

The seven surviving crew members who have not been arrested or detained held non-marine jobs such as chef or steward, Yang said from Mokpo, the southern city near the wreck site where prosecutors are based.

Capt. Lee Joon-seok told reporters after his arrest that he withheld the evacuation order because rescuers had yet to arrive and he feared for passengers' safety in the cold, swift water. Crew members have also defended their actions.

Helmsman Oh Yong-seok, one of those arrested Saturday, has said he and several crew members did their best to save people. He said that he and four crew members worked from nearby boats to smash windows on the sinking ferry, dragging six passengers stuck in cabins to safety.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said it would soon change ferry systems so that passenger, vehicle and cargo information is processed electronically. There is not only uncertainty about how many people were on the Sewol, but a huge discrepancy regarding the amount of cargo it was carrying when it sank.

The Sewol was carrying an estimated 3,608 tons of cargo, according to an executive of the company that loaded it. That far exceeds what the captain claimed in paperwork - 150 cars and 657 tons of other cargo, according to the coast guard - and is more than three times what an inspector who examined the vessel during a redesign last year said it could safely carry.

Yang, the prosecutor, said that the cause of the sinking could be due to excessive veering, improper stowage of cargo, modifications made to the ship and tidal influence. He said investigators would determine the cause by consulting with experts and using simulations.

Prosecutors have also seized documents from Jindo Vessel Traffic Services Center and Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Center, Yang said, and are analyzing communication messages, vessel tracking data and security camera recordings and others. The centers communicated with Sewol crew members as the ship listed and filled with water. The communications revealed confusion and indecision on the evacuation.

Despite bad weather, dozens of divers planned to continue underwater searches Sunday for the missing, said Ko Myung-seok, a spokesman for the emergency task force. Ko said the weather was worsening Sunday, with a high-seas advisory and rapid ocean currents.

Officials in charge of the search effort said divers had reached two large rooms where many of the lost may lie dead. The rooms are sleeping units designed for many people - one in the stern and one in the bow. Fifty students from Danwon High School in Ansan were booked into one of them. Students from the city near Seoul make up more than 80 percent of the dead and missing; they had been on their way to the southern tourist island of Jeju. Large objects that toppled when the ferry tipped over and sank are believed to be keeping divers from reaching bodies in at least one of the rooms.

"I just want to find my son's corpse. I want to see him one last time and hold a funeral for him," said Lim Hee-bin, as he exhaled cigarette smoke near his tent at Paengmok port in Jindo. "But the government search operation is too slow. It's total nonsense."

Lim said his son, Lim Hyun-jin, called him as the ship sank but the call was cut off. His son also sent him blurry and shaky photos showing his friends wearing orange life jackets and seated in a cabin.

"There are the last photos he sent me," Lim said. "These show they were in a dangerous situation."


Lee reported from Mokpo. Associated Press writers Jung-yoon Choi, Leon Drouin-Keith and Foster Klug in Seoul contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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silo62 April 27 2014 at 4:30 PM

I love a politician who has real character. Based on the little I know about this, I would never accept his resignation. We need more people honorably serving our government.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
kcanpa2_kenneth April 27 2014 at 9:40 AM

A sad situation. In the water, hypothermia would have killed or maimed. Human error is always the cause of human problems. Humans always need a scapegoat to sacrifice to ease their self-righteous egos. It is sad, people died, automobiles and cargo was lost; but life continues. Perhaps the best thing is to no longer all humans on ferry boats, then no one will die. Operate the ships by safely from the corporate office, like drones.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
bobcornerstone April 27 2014 at 11:58 AM

I don't understand why or how they loaded this ferry so unevenly without someone saying something to rearrange the cargo. This is a simple case of overloading to one side. Stupid, stupid, stupid, and now all of these precious kids lost.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
Iselin007 April 27 2014 at 8:53 PM

Obviously the captain was acting rogue doing as he pleased like many of the abusive people of authority in todays society.

This Captain reminds me of the Captain of the Titantic, and the manager at one of the WTC tower's businesses who said get back to work!

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
turfseer Iselin007 April 27 2014 at 9:54 PM

Iselin007: Why do you blame the captain of the Titanic? DIdn't he go down with his ship?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
Meh... turfseer April 28 2014 at 11:56 AM

because both incidents were caused by the captains ignoring the physical abilities of their ships, and both incidents the captains didn't evacuate in time...

Flag +1 rate up
Meh... April 27 2014 at 9:56 AM

Wow... you have got to give the man credit for ACCEPTING responsibility and actually resigning. I mean I cannot imagine ANY US politician actually taking responsibility for something and resigning. I have seen them apologize, and ask for forgiveness, but none have ever been willing to give up their livelihood or office just because it is the right thing to do, and years later many look back on whatever mistake they've made and actually defend their actions.. I mean that sends a clear message about what kind of person he is, and how much he actually CARES for his people and their opinion and happiness, over his political career. He sees the people's suffering, and he thinks his resignation will give them some kind of satisfaction. I hope he will go down in history as being the first political figure to actually place the needs and wants of his people before his own agenda and career. I don't necessarily agree that his resignation will actually help anything at this point, but the gesture speaks volumes.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
Iselin007 April 27 2014 at 8:09 PM

He should not resign because of the failures of others. The evil in society make their own policies then run like rats .

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Jennifer April 27 2014 at 2:53 PM

There was no reason for him to resign.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
2 replies
omacees12 Jennifer April 27 2014 at 3:07 PM

maybe he is a communist traitor spy for the NORTH and as something to do with that boat !! because that boat sink to fast and now he cant live with himself he should do what the other guy do and jump in the OCEAN

Flag Reply 0 rate up
omacees12 Jennifer April 27 2014 at 3:25 PM

he's hiding something else

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Celticdremr April 27 2014 at 3:01 PM

The owner of the ferry, the captain, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd mate are responsible, no one else. The structural alterations in the ferry, the 3rd mate's inexperience and the captain's allowing him to drive the ferry are the reasons for the sinking. The 1st and 2nd mate should've taken control once the 3rd mate began the abrupt heading change that caused the ferry to sink. These other people who have killed themselves or resigned are probably not obligated for their assumptions of responsibility. The faces of the parents..... They will never be the same, asians are a family-oriented society.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
mennis0852 Celticdremr April 27 2014 at 4:48 PM

The people that allowed the overloading of the ship are also responsible. Somebody at the shipping company should have made sure that the ship spects were updated and that the loading was done accordingly.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
windanseasalvage April 27 2014 at 10:08 AM

I have always been impressed with the Korean call to Duty and Honor.

Flag Reply +11 rate up
debnaert April 27 2014 at 10:08 AM

THESE people have honor and pride............ something our people DON'T POSSESS along with a conscience!

Flag Reply +15 rate up
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