Ves­sel lies more than 40m be­low the waves off small is­land

New Straits Times - - World -

SAL­VAGE op­er­a­tors be­gan rais­ing South Korea’s sunken Se­wol ferry yes­ter­day, of­fi­cials said, nearly three years af­ter the dis­as­ter killed more than 300 peo­ple and dealt a crip­pling blow to now-ousted pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye.

Work­ers had de­ter­mined they could be­gin sal­vaging the 6,800tonne ferry that sank in 2014, killing more than 300 peo­ple and trig­ger­ing a public up­roar that con­trib­uted to the re­cent ouster of Park Geun-hye as pres­i­dent.

Work­ers on two barges had ear­lier slipped 66 ca­bles be­neath the Se­wol ferry, which has been ly­ing on its left side in about 40m of wa­ter. The ca­bles are con­nected to a frame of me­tal beams divers have spent months putting in place.

Lee Che­oljo, a Oceans and Fish­eries Min­istry of­fi­cial, said work­ers had lifted the ferry about a me­tre above the seafloor, and divers had in­spected the ship un­der­wa­ter. He told re­porters that a bal­anc­ing op­er­a­tion was re­quired be­cause of the ferry’s tilt.

The sal­vage op­er­a­tion is ex­pected to take at least 10 hours to raise the top part of the ferry about 13m above the sur­face.

Work­ers will then be­gin load­ing it onto a semi-sub­mersible, heavy-lift ves­sel that will carry it to a main­land port. That process, in­clud­ing emp­ty­ing the ferry of wa­ter and fuel, is ex­pected to take days.

Work­ers also con­ducted tests to raise the ferry on Sun­day, but de­layed the op­er­a­tion af­ter some ca­bles be­came tan­gled.

The bod­ies of 295 pas­sen­gers — most of whom were stu­dents on a high school trip — were re­cov­ered af­ter the sink­ing on April 16, 2014, but nine are still miss­ing.

It is thought that the nine bod­ies may be trapped inside the sunken ship, and rais­ing the ferry in­tact has been a key de­mand of the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies.

“I am a mother who just re­ally misses her daugh­ter. Please pray for us so we can go home with Eun-hwa,” said Lee Keum-hui, one of a hand­ful of relatives who have been liv­ing in makeshift homes at Paengmok, the clos­est port to the wreck, since the ac­ci­dent.

“We will be grate­ful if you pray with us so that the last re­main­ing vic­tims can re­turn to their fam­i­lies,” she said, break­ing down.

Other be­reaved fam­ily mem­bers have been main­tain­ing a vigil at a camp on a hill­top here, the near­est is­land to the site, just 1.5km away.

Yel­low rib­bons — a sym­bol for the vic­tims of the deadly dis­as­ter — hang on nearby trees, their colour faded by the course of time.

In a tense at­mos­phere, one vic­tim’s fa­ther ner­vously watched through binoc­u­lars, try­ing to get a glimpse of the op­er­a­tion.

“We will not clear the camp even when the Se­wol is raised,” he said, de­clin­ing to be named. “You never know what you will find be­neath the sunken ferry.”

The dis­as­ter and its af­ter­math gripped South Korea and hung over the pres­i­dency of Park, who stayed at her res­i­dence for seven hours in the cru­cial ini­tial phase of the sink­ing.

She has never spec­i­fied what she was do­ing, spark­ing wild ru­mours in­clud­ing a tryst and a cos­metic surgery.

A per­ma­nent Se­wol protest site tar­get­ing her was sub­se­quently set up in the cen­tre of Seoul, with ef­fi­gies of the head of state on dis­play along­side pic­tures of dead school­child­ren.

Neg­li­gence over the sink­ing was one of the grounds for which par­lia­ment im­peached Park in De­cem­ber, al­though the con­sti­tu­tional court ruled that it was not an im­peach­able of­fence when it up­held her dis­missal on other charges ear­lier this month.

Donggeochado is­land has a pop­u­la­tion of only around 300 peo­ple, but the once-a-day ferry to it was packed with re­porters yes­ter­day and at least one out­side broad­cast truck.

Cap­tain Lee Jun-seok was sen­tenced to life in pri­son for “mur­der through wil­ful neg­li­gence” and 14 other crew mem­bers given terms rang­ing from two to 12 years. Agen­cies


Two barges pre­par­ing to at­tempt to sal­vage sunken ‘Se­wol’ ferry in wa­ters off Jindo, South Korea, yes­ter­day.

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