S. KOREA BEGINS RAISING SUNKEN FERRY
Vessel lies more than 40m below the waves off small island
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.