In a nationally televised speech on Monday, South Korean President Park Geun Hye bowed deeply before her country and took "ultimate responsibility" for the failed rescue of at least 286 young students, crew members, and teachers who died when their ferry sank last month. Park has apologized before, though not so publicly, and already sacked her prime minister. On Monday, she said she will push to disband the Coast Guard, since it "didn't do its duty."
Breaking up the Coast Guard, formed in 1953, requires approval from parliament. Park is proposing to fold the Coast Guard's investigative unit into the national police and create a new agency for the rescue operations. Opposition legislator Min Byung Doo said breaking up the guard is a "wrong diagnosis and prescription" and an exercise in blame-shifting. Korean Maritime and Ocean University professor Choi Suk Yoon tells Bloomberg News that while the maritime agency could use reforming, "disbanding the entire Coast Guard because it has botched rescue operations isn't a very prudent response."
For Park, though — whose approval ratings have dropped sharply since the ferry disaster — canning the Coast Guard is only a first step. More significantly, she pledged to upend South Korea's culture of "kkiri kkiri," a sort of well-greased revolving door between regulators and big business. "The sinking of the Sewol will stay as a hard-to-erase scar in our history," Park said. "It's the duty of the living to make reform and a great transformation for the country so that the sacrifices of the dead were not wasted."