Sunday, April 27, 2014

South Korea: PM Resigns, President Park Could Follow as Regulatory Control Deficiencies Exposed

According to Reuters, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won announced his resignation on Sunday (April 27) over the ineffective government response to the ferry disaster, in which it was first announced on April 16, that all passengers had been rescued.

The "Sewol" ferry sank on a routine trip south from the port of Incheon to the traditional holiday island of Jeju on April 16.

More than 300 people, most of them students and teachers on a field trip from the Danwon High School on the outskirts of Seoul, have died or are missing and presumed dead.

The children on board the "Sewol" were told to stand-fast in their cabins, where they waited for further orders. The confirmed death toll on Sunday was 187.

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 technically advanced countries, but faces sharp criticism of its regulatory controls.

As part of the investigation, prosecutors raided two shipping safety watchdogs and a Coast Guard office. They have also raided two vessel service centers, which act as maritime traffic control.

COMMENT: Chung's resignation was approved by President Park Geun-hye, although her spokesman said later that he would remain in his post until the rescue operation was completed.

"There are too many irregularities and malpractices in parts of society that have been with us too long and I hope those are corrected so that accidents like this will not happen again," the PM is quoted as saying.

Chung was booed and someone threw a water bottle at him when he visited grieving parents the day after the disaster. President Park was also booed by relatives when she visited a gym where families of the missing were staying.

Tempers have frayed over the slow pace of the recovery and frequent changes in information provided by the government.

The Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education sent text messages to parents that "All Danwon High School students are rescued" in the hours immediately after the disaster, local media reported.