South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won resigned from his post on Sunday amid public uproar over the government's mishandling of the Sewol ferry disaster.
During a televised statement that came 11 days after the ferry sank, leaving 300 people dead or unaccounted for, Chung said he was stepping down in part because of his cabinet’s shortcomings when it came to the “early handling” of the disaster. He apologized “on behalf of the government” and said he felt that resigning was the right thing to do.
“There have been so many varieties of irregularities that have continued in every corner of our society and practices that have gone wrong,” Chung said, according to The BBC. “I hope these deep-rooted evils get corrected this time and this kind of accident never happens again.”
Chung added: “Keeping my post is too great a burden on the administration.”
He referred to the rampant “corruption and malpractices” in Korean society as having contributed to the sinking of the Sewol ferry. While South Korea has established its prominence as a leading Asian manufacturer and exporter, critics point out that regulatory controls are still lagging.
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Chung’s resignation was approved by President Park Geun-hye, but a spokesperson for her office said Chung would remain prime minister until the rescue operation was complete, according to Reuters.
The day after the Sewol ferry sank on April 16, Chung visited the families of some of the people who perished in the disaster, many of whom were students and teachers from the Danwon High School in Ansan, a suburb of Seoul, and the prime minister was booed. Reuters reported that one of the relatives even hurled a water bottle at Chung.
Survivors of those who were onboard the ferry were furious over the government’s failure to relay accurate information to them during the first few hours after the accident. An education department official even erroneously texted the parents of some of the students that all Danwon High School students had been rescued.
Since the time that the ferry capsized and sank, divers have recovered 188 bodies from the wreckage. There are still 114 people missing. Only 174 of the 475 passengers survived, including 22 of 29 crew members.
Several of the crew members have been arrested and detained. Investigators will determine if crew members’ actions had anything to do with the vessel going under.
Those who were arrested are accused of negligence and of failing to help passengers in need, NBC News reports.