South Korea President Park Geun-hye has said that the country’s coastguard will be disbanded following its failure to carry out search and rescue operations for the Sewol ferry disaster last month, that left more than 300 people dead or missing.
Park was quoted by Reuters as saying in a televised address: "I apologise to the nation for the pain and suffering that everyone felt, as the president who should have been responsible for the safety and lives of the people."
"Had there been an immediate and proactive rescue operation after the accident, we would have been able to reduce the casualties."
"A 20-year-old vessel was bought and refurbished to add excessive capacity, then it was loaded with much more cargo than allowed with a false reporting on weight, but not a single person in the position to supervise stopped any of it."
A national emergency safety agency will be created to takeover the coastguard’s rescue duties, while the national police will handle its investigative functions.
Park said that the coastguard in its current form would be unable to prevent another large-scale disaster.
"The coastguard continued to get bigger in size but did not have enough personnel and budget allocated for maritime safety, and training for rescue was very much insufficient," Park added.
The 146m-long South Korean passenger ferry capsized off the south-west coast on 16 April, on its voyage from Incheon in the north-west to the southern island of Jeju.
At the time of the incident, 476 passengers and crew were on board and the ferry was also carrying 150 vehicles.
Image: Sewol at the Port of Incheon. Photo: courtesy of jinjoo2713.