S. Korea No. 2 leader apologizes, resigns over ferry crisis

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SEOUL, South Korea -- Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, the No. 2 official in the South Korean government, apologized and offered his resignation on Sunday, as the country remained angry and saddened over the sinking of a ferry that left 302 people, the vast majority of them high school students, dead or missing.

President Park Geun-hye quickly accepted his resignation but asked Mr. Chung to stay in his post until the government completes its rescue operations, said Min Kyung-wook, a presidential spokesman.

The government has come under fire as early investigations revealed loopholes in safety measures and lax regulatory enforcement that investigators said contributed to the sinking of the 6,825-ton ferry, the Sewol, on April 16. It was also criticized for failing to respond quickly and efficiently to the crisis and for fumbling during the early stages of rescue operations.

A somber-looking Mr. Chung accepted the criticism Sunday when he offered "an apology to the people" during a nationally televised news conference.

Mr. Chung is the highest-ranking government official to lose his job over the sinking, South Korea's worst disaster since 1995, when a department store collapsed in Seoul, killing 501 people.

The ship's captain, Lee Jun-seok, 69, and 14 other top members of the crew escaped the ferry in the first two coast guard ships to arrive at the scene. All of them are now under arrest on criminal charges, including accidental homicide.

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

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said it would soon change ferry systems so that passenger, vehicle and cargo information is processed electronically. There is not only uncertainty about how many people were on the Sewol, but a huge discrepancy regarding the amount of cargo it was carrying when it sank.

The ferry was carrying an estimated 3,608 tons of cargo, according to an executive of the company that loaded it. That far exceeds what the captain claimed in paperwork -- 150 cars and 657 tons of other cargo, according to the coast guard -- and is more than three times what an inspector who examined the vessel during a redesign last year said it could safely carry.

Associated Press contributed.


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