Seoul set to replace coast guard

AFTERMATH::In the wake of the ‘Sewol’ ferry tragedy, S Korea’s president vowed to reshape the nation’s search-and-rescue operations with an agency to launch today

Reuters, SEOUL

Wed, Nov 19, 2014 - Page 5

South Korea is set to launch a massive new government agency this week to handle emergency rescues and safety management seven months after a ferry disaster killed 304 people and was blamed by South Korean President Park Geun-hye on a failed response by the nation’s coast guard.

The coast guard is being broken up and its search-and-rescue duties are being moved to the South Korea’s new National Safety Agency, which is to have more than 10,000 staff and incorporate fire and emergency response teams, the government said yesterday.

Former South Korean Navy admiral Park In-yong is to lead the new body, while ex-army general Lee Song-ho has been appointed vice minister, South Korea’s presidential Blue House announced.

Lee was credited with leading a successful mission in 2011 to rescue 21 sailors aboard a South Korean freighter hijacked by Somali pirates.

The agency is to launch today.

The Sewol capsized and sank on April 16 after making a turn on a routine voyage due to excess cargo and improper stowage. Many of the victims were teenagers on a school trip who remained in their cabins in accordance with crew instructions.

So far, 15 surviving members of the crew have been convicted of charges ranging from homicide to negligence and received prison sentences of up to 36 years.In May, Park vowed sweeping reforms to improve emergency response and safety oversight and announced that she would break up the coast guard.

Just 172 of the 476 passengers on board the Sewol were rescued as the vessel listed and sank with most of the passengers inside.

Many of the survivors were seen on television being pulled from the water by fishermen who had rushed to the scene near the nation’s southwestern coast.

Additional reporting by AFP