President Park Geun-hye in a nationally televised address on Monday apologized again for the botched rescue in the ferry disaster last month and vowed to dismantle the Korea Coast Guard and create a new national safety agency.
Park also pledged to ban retired government officials from landing jobs with organizations and agencies whose responsibility are similar or related to their previous posts, in order to root out bureaucratic corruption.
"As president responsible for the people's lives and safety, I offer a heartfelt apology for the pains the people have suffered," Park said. "The ultimate responsibility for failing to respond properly to this accident lies with me."
"The Korea Coast Guard failed to fulfill its duties. Had it carried out rescue efforts immediately and properly after the accident, it would have been possible to greatly reduce the sacrifices," Park added.
The investigative duties of the Korea Coast Guard will be taken over by the National Police Agency while safety and rescue duties will be handed over to the new agency, Park said.
That spells the end for the Coast Guard 61 years after its establishment, while the Ministry of Security and Public Administration will handle only administrative duties and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries will focus only on supporting the fisheries industry.
Park also proposed that the National Assembly enact a special law setting up a fact-finding committee that will look into suspicions of corruption and other irregularities related to the ferry disaster.
She said the government will build a memorial to the victims of the ferry disaster, mostly high school students who were on a field, trip and designate April 16, the date of the tragedy, as a special day to highlight the importance of safety.
After delivering her address, Park flew to the United Arab Emirates for a ceremony marking the completion of the first reactor built by a Korean consortium abroad. She had originally planned to visit the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from May 17 to 25, but the trip was delayed and limited to the UAE due to the ferry tragedy.
She is expected to announce a new nominee for prime minister after returning from the UAE on Wednesday.