South Korean PM steps down as ferry sinking death toll rises to 188
JINDO, South Korea — Despite bad weather, dozens of South Korean divers continued underwater searches on Sunday for the missing from a sunken ferry, a spokesman said, finding one body to bring the confirmed death toll to 188.
The prime minister, Chung Hong-won's, resigned over the government's handling of the sinking.
Divers reached two large sleeping units in the ferry where many of the lost may lie dead, officials said on Saturday. Large objects that toppled when the vessel tipped over and sank are believed to be keeping divers from reaching bodies in at least one of the two rooms. The tragedy left more than 300 people dead or missing and led to widespread shame, fury and finger-pointing, blaming “deep-rooted evils” in society.
Fifty students from Danwon High School in Ansan, a city near Seoul, were booked into one of the rooms. Danwon students make up more than 80 percent of the dead and missing; they were on their way to the southern tourist island of Jeju.
“I just want to find my son's corpse. I want to see him one last time and hold a funeral for him,” said Lim Hee-bin, as he exhaled cigarette smoke near his tent at Paengmok port in Jindo. “But the government search operation is too slow. It's total nonsense.”
Lim said his son, Lim Hyun-jin, called him as the ship sank, but the call was cut off. His son sent him blurry and shaky photos showing his friends wearing orange life jackets and seated in a cabin.
“There are the last photos he sent me,” Lim said. “These show they were in a dangerous situation.”
Chung was heckled by victims' relatives, and his car was blocked when he visited a shelter on an island near the site of the sinking a week ago. On Sunday, he gave his reasoning for the resignation to reporters in Seoul.
“As I saw grieving families suffering with the pain of losing their loved ones and the sadness and resentment of the public, I thought I should take all responsibility as prime minister,” Chung said. “There have been so many varieties of irregularities that have continued in every corner of our society and practices that have gone wrong. I hope these deep-rooted evils get corrected this time and this kind of accident never happens again.”
South Korean executive power is largely concentrated in the president, so Chung's resignation appears to be symbolic. Presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook said President Park Geun-hye will accept the resignation but did not say when Chung would leave office.
Officials have taken into custody all 15 people involved in navigating the ferry Sewol, which sank on April 16.