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South Korea's president vows to disband coast guard after ferry disaster

South Korean President Park Geun-hye prays during a serves to pay tribute to victims of the sunken ferry Sewol at a Catholic church in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, May 18, 2014. The ferry disaster left more than 200 people dead, with others still missing. Government and civilian divers are fighting rapid currents as they try to retrieve the remaining bodies. (AP Photo/Yonhap, Do Kwang-hwan) KOREA OUT

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South Korean President Park Geun-hye prays during a serves to pay tribute to victims of the sunken ferry Sewol at a Catholic church in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, May 18, 2014. The ferry disaster left more than 200 people dead, with others still missing. Government and civilian divers are fighting rapid currents as they try to retrieve the remaining bodies. (AP Photo/Yonhap, Do Kwang-hwan) KOREA OUT

SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea's president said Monday she will push to disband the coast guard in the wake of last month's ferry disaster that left more than 300 people dead or missing, calling its rescue operations after the disaster a failure.

A month after the sinking, 286 bodies have been retrieved but 18 others are still missing. Some 172 people, including 22 of the ship's 29 crew members, survived.

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A month after the sinking, 286 bodies have been retrieved but 18 others are still missing. Some 172 people, including 22 of the ship's 29 crew members, survived. (YAO QILIN / XINHUA / ZUMA PRESS / MCT)

The coast guard has been under growing public criticism over its alleged poor search and rescue work after the ferry Sewol sank on April 16. Most of the victims were students from a single high school near Seoul who were travelling to the southern tourist island of Jeju.

"The coast guard's rescue operations were virtually a failure," Park said in a nationally televised speech.

Park said she will push for legislation that would transfer the coast guard's responsibilities to the National Police Agency and a new government body she plans to establish.

Park also again apologized for the government's handling of the sinking, one of the deadliest disasters in decades in South Korea. "The final responsibility for not properly dealing with this incident is placed on me," she said. Park has apologized over the incident at least three times.

About one month after the sinking, 286 bodies have been retrieved but 18 others are still missing. Some 172 people, including 22 of the ship's 29 crew members, survived.

Prosecutors last week indicted the ferry's 15 crew members tasked with navigating the ship, four on homicide charges.

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