South Korea has formally launched a new massive safety agency aimed at preventing disasters like April's ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people.

The Ministry of Public Safety and Security began its operations Wednesday under broader government restructuring plans that center on disbanding the coast guard and splitting its responsibilities to the new ministry and the national police agency.

The coast guard has been under fierce public criticism for what authorities say was its slow, unprofessional rescue operations on the day of the sinking.

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won said in an inauguration ceremony that the safety ministry should quickly establish a comprehensive, effective disaster response system.

The safety ministry has also taken over the national disaster office and incorporated some duties of the security and public administration ministry.