MOSCOW, November 7 (RIA Novosti) — South Korea’s National Assembly has voted to disband the country’s coastguard, as part of a package of laws intended to prevent future accidents like the ferry disaster which killed more than 300 people in April.
According to AP, “The lawmakers voted 146-71 in favor of splitting the coast guard's duties between the National Police Agency and a broader safety agency that would be established. Thirty-two lawmakers abstained.”
The South Korean coastguard was identified as one guilty party in a series of negligent errors both before and after the disaster, in which the Sewol ferry sank on its route to Jeju island carrying 476 passengers, most of them being high school students.
The Yonhap news agency reports other measures passed include an independent investigation into the cause of the accident and a bill to seize assets from those found responsible for the deaths, including assets transferred to a third party. The assets are to be used to compensate the families of the victims.
In the aftermath of the catastrophe, South Korean President Park Geun-hye made a televised address to the nation in which she acknowledged the criticism of the rescue response. “The Korea Coast Guard did not live up to its inherent duties in this ferry disaster. Had it performed rescue operations promptly and proactively right after the accident, the number of victims could have been greatly reduced. The Coast Guard’s rescue operations were virtually a failure,” she said.
The president added, “The ultimate responsibility for failing to properly deal with the disaster lies with me,” and pointed to structural deficits of the coast guard, specifically a lack of funding and manpower. To solve these structural problems, she announced her decision to dismantle the coast guard and also divest related safety responsibilities from two other public ministries, to create a new national safety agency.
The bills have been debated in the South Korean parliament for months prior to their approval today, with contentions centering on the demands from family members to select members of the independent investigation team and demands from the political opposition party to give the investigators the power to prosecute those found responsible for the disaster.
In September, The Wall Street Journal reported that President Park cited “the separation of legal, administrative, and judicial powers,” to deny the latter demand. Yonhap reported that in the Sewol law passed today by 212 votes to 12, with the ruling party agreeing to seek the families’ opinion on appointees to the investigative group. There were 27 abstentions. The wealth retrieval bill passed 224-4, with 17 abstentions.