South Korean President Park Geun Hye took responsibility for the Sewol ferry disaster in her second meeting with bereaved families, as her approval rate slid to a four-month low amid public anger over the accident.
“I feel boundless responsibility” for both the sinking and the government’s handling of it, Park told about 50 family members today at a port near the sunken ship, according to a statement on a presidential office website. “I’ll punish those responsible for the accident and any who committed crimes.”
Park, who last week likened to “murder” the ferry crew’s abandoning of passengers, today also pledged to “fix fundamentals” that contributed to the tragedy, such as lax safety checks, miscommunication and delays in the rescue effort.
The confirmed death toll stood at 242 as of this morning as divers continue to retrieve bodies from the sunken vessel, according to Ko Myung Suk, director general of the Korea Coast Guard, who spoke in a televised briefing. The search will continue for 60 victims still missing, he said.
Park’s rating fell to 48 percent in the April 28-30 period, Gallup Korea said on its website May 2, citing a poll of 1,008 people with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent. Her rating in the same survey series had remained over 50 percent since the third week of December.
On April 27, Park accepted Prime Minister Chung Hong Won’s offer to resign over what he called the government’s failure to deal effectively with the April 16 disaster that left more than 300 people dead or missing. Two days later, she apologized during a meeting with Cabinet ministers.
The majority of the estimated 476 people who were aboard the ferry were students from Danwon High School on a field trip to the resort island of Jeju. Only 75 of the 325 students survived in the country’s worst maritime disaster since 1970 when the “Namyoung” ferry sank, killing 323.