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Assembly panel queries Park’s chief aide about ferry disaster

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Published : 2014-07-10 21:00
Updated : 2014-07-10 21:00

The chief presidential secretary said Thursday that the primary reason so few people were rescued in the Sewol ferry disaster was because the crew abandoned ship with all passengers still onboard.

Kim Ki-choon, the presidential chief of staff, answered questions from lawmakers probing the government’s botched rescue attempt on the day the ferry Sewol sank. More than 300 are presumed dead.

“I come here with a heavy heart and offer my sincere apologies to the victims and their families,” Kim said at parliament.

Opposition legislators accused Kim of contributing to the botched rescue operation by not convening an emergency presidential meeting until more than five hours after the 6,800-ton ship began sinking in the West Sea on April 16.

Parliament also criticized Kim for depending on live television broadcasts for information about the accident in the early hours of the disaster.
Presidential Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon reports to the National Assembly on Thursday to answer questions about the bungled rescue operations following the ferry disaster on April 16. (Lee Gil-dong/The Korea Herald)

“Because today’s telecommunications have developed, there are times when the media get word of disasters before government intelligence agencies do,” Kim said. “I agree that this is a problem.”

Public perception that Cheong Wa Dae failed miserably to coordinate government agencies during the rescue operation, such as the Coast Guard, the Navy and local fire departments, only increased after the Coast Guard disclosed controversial telephone recordings last week.

The recordings, of phone conversations between rescuers and presidential staff on the day of the accident, showed Cheong Wa Dae staff fumbling over the number of survivors more than four hours after the maritime disaster.

The recordings also showed officials ordering a rescue helicopter from the accident site only to go pick up Oceans and Fisheries Minister Lee Ju-young at a nearby airport, about an hour after the Sewol had capsized.

Kim, as the head of the president’s staff, has been at the center of criticism of Cheong Wa Dae, which critics say failed to function as a “control center” for the rescue operation.

The former lawmaker and Justice Minister is also being held responsible by opposition lawmakers for President Park Geun-hye’s Cabinet nomination debacles.

Kim, as the Cheong Wa Dae chief of staff, is in charge of Cabinet personnel management.

Two prime ministerial nominees ― Ahn Dae-hee and Moon Chang-keuk ― stepped down in May and June, respectively.

Ahn allegedly received an improperly high salary as a lawyer after retiring as a Supreme Court justice in 2012. Moon allegedly had ultraconservative political leanings, sparking criticism that the former journalist was “too biased” to be the government’s No. 2 executive.

Kim has been blamed by the opposition most recently for controversial ministerial nominations. Prospective Cabinet members have been accused of real estate speculation, plagiarism, and drunk driving.

By Jeong Hunny (hj257@heraldcorp.com)

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