SEOUL, Nov. 23 (Korea Bizwire) — Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon apologized Thursday following revelations that a government official attempted to conceal the finding of a piece of bone believed to be remains of a victim of the 2014 ferry sinking.
A Oceans and Fisheries Ministry team, tasked with searching the wreckage of the Sewol ferry, found the bone last Friday, but its chief told team members to keep the finding secret from the victims’ families in a suspected attempt to put an early end to the search that has been going on since the vessel was raised in March.
The discovery came a day after the families of five still-missing victims announced their agreement to a halt to the search, and the ministry official apparently feared that the finding could spark calls for continuing the operation.
The official has been stripped of his duties and is subject to an investigation.
“The concealment of the remains of a Sewol victim gave a sense of betrayal to the people beyond disappointment. This is a shameful act, and there is no room for any excuse,” Lee said during a weekly government policy coordination meeting.
“I offer a deep apology to the families of the Sewol victims and to the people,” he said.
Lee ordered officials to conduct a swift investigation into why the concealment happened and sternly punish those responsible. Lee also said the government will take steps to tighten the discipline of public servants.
“This case is a warning that complacency and irresponsibility are widespread in officialdom,” he said. “We will again strengthen efforts to tighten the discipline of public officials and raise their sense of responsibility.”
The 6,800-ton Sewol ferry sank on April 16, 2014, in waters off the country’s southwest coast and claimed the lives of 304 people, most of them teenage students on a school trip, in one of the worst maritime tragedies in South Korean history.
Opposition parties said President Moon Jae-in needs to apologize and dismiss the oceans minister.
“This is a case for which we may have to conduct a parliamentary probe,” Chung Woo-taik, the floor leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, said.
Yoo Seong-min, the leader of the minor opposition Bareun Party, pressured Moon to explain measures to prevent a repeat of such a case.
“President Moon should stand before citizens to take clear responsibility, reflect on the case and explain preventive measures,” he said.