SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea on Wednesday formally launched a new massive safety agency aimed at preventing disasters like April’s ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people, mostly teenage students.
The establishment of the Ministry of Public Safety and Security was part of broader government restructuring plans that center on disbanding the coast guard and splitting its responsibilities to the new ministry and the national police agency.
The coast guard has been under fierce public criticism for what authorities say was its slow, unprofessional rescue operations on the day of the sinking. The safety ministry has also taken over the national disaster office and incorporated some duties of another government ministry.
The sinking, one of the country’s deadliest disasters in decades, caused a national sour-searching on public safety that analysts say has been ignored during the scramble to rebuild following the 1950-53 Korean War. Officials said the new ministry would bolster comprehensive, swifter responses to future disasters.
“We should take a painful lesson from the Sewol disaster and bolster our disaster response capabilities,” Prime Minister Chung Hong-won told an inauguration ceremony for the new ministry, referring to the name of the sunken ferry.
Officials blamed crew member’s professional negligence, overloaded cargo and improper storage for the sinking, along with untimely rescue efforts. A South Korean court last week sentenced the 15 navigation crew members to five to 36 years in prison.
A total of 295 bodies have been recovered but nine others are still missing. South Korea last week stopped underwater searches for the missing citing low chances of finding more bodies and safety concerns for divers.