UK & World News

  • 29 April 2014, 13:26

South Korean President Sorry For Ferry Response

South Korea's president has apologised for her government's "insufficient" response to the ferry disaster.

While 204 people - most of them schoolchildren - have been confirmed dead, nearly 100 passengers are still missing after the Sewol sank on April 16.

President Park Geun-hye apologised at a Cabinet meeting, saying South Korea has "lost many precious lives because of the accident, and I am sorry to the public and am heavy hearted."

She insisted the government could not have prevented the accident but said: "The initial response and remedy were insufficient."

Ms Park's apology came after her prime minister's resignation amid continuing claims by relatives that the government did not do enough in the initial stages to try to rescue their loved ones.

The government has also been widely criticised over perceived corruption and lax safety standards that may have led to the disaster.

Meanwhile, divers are continuing to work through strong currents to try to recover the remaining victims.

They are mainly using their hands to feel for remaining bodies as they make their way through dark cabins, stairwells, storage rooms, lounges and restaurants of the submerged passenger ship.

But the search is being hampered by strong currents swirling around the ferry and, once inside, divers have to deal with overturned furniture, mattresses and other debris floating in the murky, sediment-heavy waters.

Ms Park earlier visited Ansan, south of Seoul, where she paid respects at a memorial for the schoolchildren who died in the disaster.

Of the 476 people on board the ferry, 325 were students from the same high school in Ansan. Only 75 of them were rescued.

Media reports said the president listened to angry family members of victims for 10 minutes as they shouted at her and demanded an apology.

All 15 of the surviving crew responsible for sailing the ferry remain in custody, facing charges including negligence and abandoning passengers.

Investigators, meanwhile, are widening their inquiries into both the cause of the ship's sinking and emergency workers' initial response to the tragedy.

Prosecutors are investigating an exchange of calls between crew members of the sunken ferry and the offices of the owner, Chonghaejin Marine.

A number of crew members on the ferry spoke by phone about seven times with the owner's offices, prosecutors said, with the first call to the owner going through just six minutes after the ferry reported a distress call to a vessel traffic services centre.

Prosecutors are looking into what was the purpose of the calls.