SEOUL- South Korean President Park Geun-Hye took tearful responsibility Monday for the mishandling of last month’s Sewol ferry disaster, admitting many lives were unnecessarily lost and vowing to dismantle the national coastguard.
“The ultimate responsibility for the poor response to this accident lies with me,” Park said in a televised address to the nation, during which she openly wept and twice bowed deeply in a display of contrition.
Park’s popularity ratings have been hammered by the April 16 disaster that claimed around 300 lives, most of them schoolchildren.
She has voiced regret several times, but Monday’s address was the first time she has explicitly accepted direct responsibility for what has become a defining moment of her presidency.
“As the president responsible for the lives and safety of South Koreans, I offer my sincere apology for all the suffering,” she said.
The 6,825-tonne Sewol was carrying 476 people when it capsized and sank off the southern coast on April 16.
The confirmed death toll stands at 286, with 18 still unaccounted for.
Of those on board, 325 were children from a high school on an organized trip to the southern resort island of Jeju.
The victims’ families have been extremely critical of nearly every aspect of the government’s handling of the disaster, with some taking their protests to the doors of the presidential Blue House in Seoul.
Many relatives believe some children may have survived for hours or even days inside air pockets in the capsized ferry, but died because rescuers took too long to access the submerged vessel.