Thursday, May 8, 2014

South Korea: Update--Family Members March on President Park, Demand Audience with President, Shunned

According to Reuters, parents of children killed when a passenger ferry sank last month led a somber march on South Korea's presidential palace in the early hours of Friday (May 9), where they demanded to meet with President Park Geun-hye.

Family members and grieving parents were prevented by riot police from nearing the palace, and instead sat in the middle of the road where they sobbed, wailed and shouted in anger.

Park's government has faced sharp criticism for its handling of the disaster from the families of the ferry victims, many of whom believe a faster initial response could have saved many more lives.

South Korean prosecutors are seeking the arrest of members of the family that owns the ferry operator, and may also seek the extradition of a son of the reclusive head of the family from the United States, an official said on Thursday (May 8).

The "Sewol," overloaded and traveling too fast on a sharp turn, capsized and sank about 20 kilometers (12 miles) off the southwestern coast on a routine journey from Incheon on the mainland to the southern holiday island of Jeju, killing hundreds of children and teachers on a high school outing.

Only 172 people have been rescued and the remainder are all presumed to have drowned. An estimated 476 passengers and crew were on board.

COMMENT: Some of the crew, including the captain, were caught on videotape abandoning ship while the children were told numerous times to stay put in their cabins where they awaited further instructions.

Only two of the vessel's 46 lifeboats were deployed.

The prosecutors' pursuit of a son and a daughter of Yoo Byung-un, the head of the family that owns Chonghaejin Marine, the ferry operator, broadens the criminal investigation into the tragedy. 

The government has also started the process of stripping the company of its license to operate ferries.

Yoo's son Hyuck-ki, who is believed to be in the United States, has failed three times to respond to a prosecution summons, an official said. Other aides to Yoo are also believed to be abroad and have ignored summonses.

All 15 of the surviving crew members, including the 69-year-old captain, have been arrested and face charges of gross negligence amid accusations they abandoned the vessel without implementing emergency escape procedures.

The prosecution is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for possible extradition of Yoo Hyuck-ki, the prosecutor said.

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 criticism that regulatory controls have not kept pace with manufacturing.