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Some 174 passengers were rescued during the first day of the ferry disaster, but as the death toll rose to 187 on Saturday, hope was quickly fading for the more than 115 still missing.
Search operations, however, are ongoing.
“It has been more than 10 days since the sinking accident occurred, but the cries from the family members who still not have found their missing keep me from sleeping at night,” he said in a televised press conference.
Chung said he was taking responsibility for how the government handled the ferry incident, adding that its “inadequate measures” disappointed the public.
“I’d like to apologize for the mishandling of a slew of problems, from preventive measures before the accident to the government’s initial response and follow-up steps over the accident,” Chung said.
The Sewol, which was carrying 462 passengers including 30 crew issued a distress call at 8:52am local time before tilting to its side and capsizing at around 11:30am on April 16.
It had departed the western port city of Incheon the night before, carrying 325 students and 15 teachers on a school trip to the southern resort island of Jeju.
Late last week, Seoul authorities began to investigate the incident and hold some among the crew accountable. By Thursday, prosecutors had arrested 20 of the remaining 29 crew, inlucding Captain Lee Joon-seok who has been charged with negligence and abandoning the passengers.
Investigators also confirmed earlier suspicions that the ferry was carrying cargo that was three times the recommended weight and placed a travel ban on the vessel’s operators, Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd.
South Korean media has alleged that that the Sewol‘s operators may have bribed port authorities to allow the extra cargo on board.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye is yet to decide whether to accept Chung’s resignation.