Ex-general tapped to head S. Korean safety office

AP News
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Posted: Nov 17, 2014 10:48 PM

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea's President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday nominated a retired navy general as head of a new broader safety agency to be created in the aftermath of April's ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people.

The nomination of Pak In-yong is part of government restructuring plans which include disbanding the coast guard and transferring its responsibilities to the safety agency and the national police agency.

The coast guard has faced withering public criticism over its failure to rescue passengers trapped in the ferry that sank on its way to a holiday island. Most of the victims are teenage students.

The safety agency will incorporate some duties of the coast guard and the security and public administration ministry and take over the state disaster office. Officials say the safety agency is aimed at formulating a comprehensive, swifter and more professional response to future disasters.

The agency is to be formally launched Wednesday. Lawmakers approved the restructuring plans earlier this month.

Park In-yong is a former deputy head of the military's joint chiefs of staff, according to the presidential Blue House. His nomination is required to undergo a parliamentary hearing, although the appointment does not need a legislative endorsement.

More than seven months after the sinking, 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.

Authorities blamed crew member's negligence and abandonment of passengers, overloaded cargo, improper storage and untimely rescue efforts for the sinking. A South Korean court last week gave a 36-year prison term to the ferry's captain and sentenced 14 other navigation crew members to five to 30 years in prison.