APRIL 27, 2014—Saying that the “government took inadequate measures and disappointed the public,” South Korea Prime Minister Chung Hong-won announced his resignation on national television in the wake of the ferry capsizing and sinking on April 16 that has left 188 confirmed dead and another 114 still missing.
Chung is the second highest ranking official in the Korean government. While the post of prime minister is largely ceremonial, Chung took responsibility and apologized on behalf of the government for the many problems that arose during the first response and the subsequent rescue operation.
More than 300 high school students were onboard the ferry Sewol when it sank. Parents and relatives have been outraged and distraught over what some have portrayed as a slow, disorganized search and rescue operation.
The resignation comes as the investigation into the ferry accident broadens. The Sewol’s captain, Lee Jun-seok, was arrested on April 19, along with one of the mates, Park Han-gyeol, and helmsman Jo Jun-gi. Other surviving crew members could face charges from criminal negligence to abandoning passengers.
Lee, Park and Jo face criminal charges that include accidental homicide. Lee also faces a charge of abandoning passengers at a time of crisis, which could bring a life sentence.
Investigators are also looking into whether the crew failed to properly secure vehicles and cargo before the ferry departed. The unsecured vehicles and cargo could have played a role in the ferry’s capsizing.
The ferry’s operator, Cheonghaejin Marine Co., is also coming under increasing prosecutorial scrutiny. Travel bans have been issued for eight current and former executives of the Korean Register of Shipping, which conducted inspections and issued safety certificates for the ferry.