|Coast Guard chief Kim Seok-kyun testifies before the National Assembly’s Sewol investigation panel on Wednesday. (Lee Gil-dong/The Korea Herald)|
Parliament’s probe into the ferry disaster temporarily broke down on Wednesday, only three days after the government hearings had begun.
Ruling Saenuri Party lawmakers threatened to boycott the remaining hearings, accusing New Politics Alliance for Democracy Rep. Kim Kwang-jin of inaccurately describing the president’s role during the botched operations to search for survivors on the ill-fated ferry Sewol.
“(Kim’s comment) that the president pressured her staff to offer detailed reports and hence paralyzed rescue operations is hyperbole,” Rep. Cho Won-jin of the Saenuri Party said.
Opposition lawmakers including Kim resumed the hearings later in the day without their Saenuri colleagues, as angry victims’ families called the ruling party lawmakers irresponsible.
Lawmakers invited government agency heads during the hearings to ask questions about the bungled rescue operations. The hearings began on Monday, after weeks of partisan bickering over when to hold the questionings, which government ministries to call in, and in what order.
Rep. Kim Hyun-mee, a senior opposition lawmaker on the probe committee, admitted Kim’s comments were inaccurate.
But she suggested Saenuri lawmakers were engineering a political smokescreen to exit the hearings.
Earlier in the day, the Coast Guard had released formerly undisclosed transcripts of phone calls between rescuers and Cheong Wa Dae staff on the day of the Sewol sinking. The content indicated that the process of reporting to the presidential office caused a delay in the rescue operations, while passengers were dying in the sinking vessel.
The recordings show officials struggling to determine the number of survivors for more than four hours after the Sewol accident.
The conversations also revealed officials ordering a rescue helicopter at the accident scene to pick up Oceans and Fisheries Minister Lee Ju-young, who was due to arrive at a nearby airport.
Meanwhile, victims’ families expressed outrage at the boycott.
“No, we do not understand, sir,” one father of a victim who attended Wednesday’s parliament hearings yelled after Cho asked the families to “understand.”
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org)