President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday publicly apologized for failing to prevent the tragic ferry disaster that left at least 264 people, mostly high school students, dead and 38 still missing.
“As a president, who has a duty to protect the nation, I’m truly heavy-hearted and feel sorry to the bereaved families,” Park said at Jogyesa Temple in Seoul during a Buddhist ceremony that paid tribute to victims of the accident.
The president’s speech followed an earlier apology she made during a Cabinet meeting on April 29, which was criticized, particularly for being made in front of Cabinet members instead of in person to the victims’ families.
“Blinded by earthly desires, (the ship operator) ignored safety rules. Irresponsible acts of tolerating such injustice led to people’s deaths,” Park said, reaffirming her vow to revamp social systems that breed such irregularities.
|President Park Geun-hye offers a prayer alongside leaders of Korea’s major religions at an event marking Buddha’s Birthday at Jogyesa Temple in Seoul on Tuesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)|
Park’s remark came two days after she revisited Jindo Island, South Jeolla Province, to console the families of the passengers who have been missing for nearly 20 days since the ferry Sewol sank on April 16.
“I’m well aware of how it feels to lose family. ... I feel infinite responsibility from the point of the accident to its rescue procedure,” Park said in a meeting with victims’ families at Paengmok Port. “Relating to your sorrow, we will put our utmost efforts into the rescue operation.”
After the president’s apology on Tuesday, Ahn Cheol-soo and Kim Han-gil, the two cochairs of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, demanded the government to give attention to finding the missing passengers.
“The president’s apology is just the beginning. The government should not try to end the situation with a mere apology and impromptu plans,” Ahn and Kim said in a statement. “Otherwise, the government will never be able to gain public trust again.”
Investigators began zeroing in on suspected associates of former Semo Group chairman Yoo Byung-eon and the Sewol’s operator Chonghaejin Marine Co. Semo Group is the predecessor of Chonghaejin Marine.
On Tuesday, the prosecution arrested a director of Chonghaejin, pushing the number of suspects in custody to 19.
Formal proceedings have begun against managers at Chonghaejin for allegedly operating the vessel despite being aware of the risk of the ship’s extensive modifications and cargo overload.
Investigators said Tuesday that the ship carried 580 tons of water, only one-third of the amount required to keep the Sewol balanced.
The investigation team is also focusing on key figures behind the tragic ferry accident, raiding about 50 companies owned by the Yoo family and banning some 50 people from leaving the country.
Investigators questioned two more prime suspects: Byeon Ki-choon, head of Semo Group’s shipbuilding affiliate Chonhaiji, and Go Chang-hwan, CEO of Semo Group.
While investigators still face trouble in bringing Yoo’s closest associates from abroad for questioning, they are considering forcibly summoning Yoo’s son Hyeok-gi in cooperation with U.S. authorities.
The younger Yoo, Hankook Pharma chief Kim Hye-kyung and former Moonjin Media chief Kim Pil-bae have been given what is seen as an ultimatum to appear for questioning by Thursday.
Investigators said they plan to invalidate their passports if they continue to ignore the summons.
By Suk Gee-hyun (email@example.com