Seoul: South Korea`s parliament on Friday passed a bill on setting up a full, independent inquiry into April`s ferry disaster, ending months of bickering which has interrupted almost all legislative work.
The bill calls for the appointment of an independent counsel and a 17-member panel to conduct a 18-month inquiry and bring charges against those responsible for the disaster. The panel includes three members drawn from the families of victims.
The Sewol ferry sank off the southern coast in April with the loss of more than 300 lives, most of them teenagers on a high-school trip.
The tragedy, blamed by many on regulatory failings and official incompetence, plunged the entire nation into a lengthy period of mourning.
Family members had pushed Parliament hard to pass legislation setting up the inquiry, with some camped out for nearly four months in Seoul`s central Gwanghwamun Square.
The National Assembly also passed another bill that would allow the government to place South Korea`s coastguard under the control of a new ministry overseeing public safety.
The Sewol disaster was the result of an illegal redesign, an overloaded cargo bay, and an inexperienced crew as well as corruption and a lack of proper oversight, investigations showed.
More than 50 people are on trial on charges linked to the sinking, including 15 crew members who were among the first to climb into life boats and stand accused of abandoning passengers still trapped inside the ferry.
Last week prosecutors demanded the death penalty for the ferry`s captain, life sentences for three senior crew members and prison terms of between 15 to 30 years for 11 others.