New Laws to Appease Sewol Victims' Families
The South Korean government passed a range of bills on Friday relating to the Sewol ferry disaster. After months of debate, the ruling and opposition parties have agreed on a plan that they hope will appease relatives of the victims and improve the country’s chances of preventing a similar accident happening in the future.
Over 300 people, mostly school children, are dead or missing after Sewol sank off the country’s south-west coast on April 16, and the government has been criticized over its initial response to the event.
News agency Yonhap reports that one of the bills passed calls for the dismantling of the Coast Guard and the National Emergency Management Agency. Instead, a new government ministry will oversee public safety.
Another bill calls for an independent investigation into the cause of the disaster and the appointment of an independent counsel and fact-finding team. Family members of the victims demanded involvement in the selection of the independent counsel. The ruling Saenuri Party, concerned about maintaining neutrality, rejected the idea. However they have agreed to a compromise that will give the families the chance to veto candidates. President Park Geun-hye will have the final say and choose one of two candidates recommended by a panel.
A third bill calls for measures that will enable the government to annex the assets of those deemed responsible for the accident to compensate the victims’ families. Current laws made it impossible to retrieve the illegally accumulated wealth of the ferry's late owner, Yoo Byung-eun, because some of it had been given to his family members. It is widely accepted that Yoo and his family ultimately caused the tragedy through lax safety practices and that they profited by the cargo overloading and excessive remodeling of the ship.