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SKorean PM offers to resign over ferry sinking

JINDO, South Korea — South Korea's prime minister offered to resign Sunday over the government's handling of a deadly ferry sinking, blaming "deep-rooted evils" in society for a tragedy that has left more than 300 people dead or missing and led to widespread shame, fury and finger-pointing.

The resignation offer comes amid rising indignation over claims by the victims' relatives that the government didn't do enough to rescue or protect their loved ones. Most of the missing and dead were high school students on a school trip. Officials have taken into custody all 15 people involved in navigating the ferry that sank April 16, and a prosecutor revealed that investigators were also looking into communications made as the ferry sank between a crew member and the company that owns the ship.

South Korean executive power is largely concentrated in the president, Park Geun-hye, so the resignation offer by Prime Minister Chung Hong-won appears to be symbolic. Min Kyung-wook, a presidential spokesman, told reporters that Park would review the offer and make a decision.

Chung was heckled by relatives and his car was blocked when he visited a shelter on an island near the site of the sinking a week ago. On Sunday, he issued an extraordinary statement to reporters in Seoul on the national tragedy.

"As I saw grieving families suffering with the pain of losing their loved ones and the sadness and resentment of the public, I thought I should take all responsibility as prime minister," Chung said. "There have been so many varieties of irregularities that have continued in every corner of our society and practices that have gone wrong. I hope these deep-rooted evils get corrected this time and this kind of accident never happens again."

Meanwhile, senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said Sunday that two helmsmen and two members of the steering crew had been formally arrested. They join 11 other crew members, including the captain, in detention.

Yang also said that a crew member called the ship's owner, Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd., as the ferry was listing April 16 but declined to disclose whether the caller was the captain. Local media reported that the captain called for company approval of an evacuation. Prosecutors said they are analyzing the content of communications between the ship and the company.

The arrested crew members are accused of negligence and of failing to help passengers in need. The captain initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and took half an hour to issue an evacuation order, by which time the ship was tilting too severely for many people to get out.

Divers have recovered 187 bodies and 115 people are believed to be missing, though the government-wide emergency task force has said the ship's passengers list could be inaccurate. Only 174 people survived, including 22 of the 29 crew members.

The seven surviving crew members who have not been arrested or detained held non-marine jobs such as chef or steward, Yang said from Mokpo, the southern city near the wreck site where prosecutors are based.

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South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won bows to the nation after offering his resignation at the Central Government Complex in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, April 27.

(AP)

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