South Korea Ferry Disaster: Prime Minister Resigns (PHOTOS)

By Esther Tanquintic-Misa
April 28, 2014 11:32 AM EST

South Korea Ferry Disaster: Prime Minister Resigns (PHOTOS)

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong Won has announced his resignation on Sunday, yielding to the nation's widespread anger over the poor and disorganized response to a ferry disaster on April 16 that killed hundreds of young lives.

President Park Geun-hye has accepted his resignation. Presidential spokesman Min Kyung Wook however said Mr Chung will remain in office until the government's response to the ferry disaster has completed.

"I offer my apology for having been unable to prevent this accident from happening and unable to properly respond to it afterwards," Mr Chung said. "I believed I, as the prime minister, certainly had to take responsibility and resign."

Mr Chung admitted he failed to be on top in overseeing the rescue operations of the Sewol passenger ferry that sank with 476 people, majority of which were schoolchildren.

"I offer my deepest condolences to the families of the victims," Chung said during a televised briefing yesterday.

Over two-thirds of the passengers of the 6,825-tonne Sewol ferry were 339 students and teachers from Danwon High School, near Seoul.

Read: South Korea Ferry Disaster: Death Toll Reaches 100, Fears Many Among Dead are Youngsters (PHOTOS)

Ji Hyung-Soo, a shattered mother, said, "Anybody responsible for this disaster must be punished severely, but the most urgent thing to do now is to recover the bodies as soon as possible."

Mr Chung is the No. 2 official in the South Korean government, next of course to President Park Geun-hye.

South Koreans blasted their government for its failure to respond quickly and efficiently to the crisis. Loopholes in safety measures and lax regulatory enforcement likewise surfaced in the search and retrieval operations.

Ahn Cheol-soo, a top leader of the main opposition party, New Politics Alliance for Democracy, said he's not at all moved by Mr Chung's resignation.

"It's utterly irresponsible and cowardly for the prime minister to step down in the middle of the rescue operation," Ahn said. In fact, the opposition leader believed that Mr Park should have been the very first among South Korean government officials to have offered an apology and that she should have done this before even accepting Mr Chung's resignation.

Read: South Korea Ferry Sinking: Miscalculation Turns Supposed Successful Rescue Operation into Disaster, 6 Dead, Hundreds Still Missing, Mostly Students, Texts of Farewell (PHOTOS)

"On behalf of the government, I apologise for many problems from the prevention of the accident to the early handling of the disaster," Mr Chung said in a brief televised statement.

Lee Jun-seok, the ship's captain, along with 14 other crew members managed to escape the ferry's sinking and were in fact among the first to have been hauled by the coast guard ships who arrived at the scene. All of them are now under arrest on criminal charges, including accidental homicide.

As of Sunday, the official death toll was at 187 while 115 ferry passengers remained missing. The number of survivors, recorded at 174, has not changed for the past 11 days.

On Friday, bodies of 48 students wearing lifejackets were found in a single room on the vessel meant to accommodate just over 30 people.

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