US$110 mil. to raise Sewol ferry: S. Korea
South Korea said Wednesday it would cost US$110 million to raise the Sewol ferry, as pressure to salvage the vessel grows before the first anniversary of its sinking.
The 6,825-tonne passenger ship sank off the southwest coast on April 16 last year with the loss of more than 300 lives — most of them high school students.
Ahead of next week’s first anniversary of the tragedy, hundreds of parents of the dead students — some with their heads shaved and clad in white mourning robes — marched 35 kilometers (22 miles) to Seoul from their home town of Ansan over the weekend. They were joined by hundreds more supporters for a rally in the capital on Sunday that called on the government to bring the sunken vessel to the surface and ensure a fully independent inquiry into the disaster.
A total of 295 bodies were recovered from the ferry, and nine victims remained unaccounted for when divers finally called off the dangerous search of its interior last November.
President Park Geun-hye promised Monday to “actively consider” raising the Sewol, taking into account the opinions of the relatives and salvage experts.
At a briefing on Wednesday, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said the salvage operation — if approved — would cost around 120 billion won ( US$110 million). “And that is only an estimate, as the final cost would be greatly dependent on weather conditions, technological uncertainties ... etc.,” said senior ministry official Yeon Yeong-jin.
Speaking in parliament the day before, Maritime Minister Yoo Kijune had said a technical review on raising the Sewol was 80-percent complete and a full report would be published by the end of April.
Yeon said the government had already spent 185 billion won — most of it on the lengthy search and rescue operation and financial support for victims’ relatives — and had budgeted a further 140 billion won in future compensation payments to families.
Park’s administration was widely criticized for its response to the disaster, and her approval ratings have only just begun to recover.
After months of political bickering, parliament passed a bill in November initiating an independent investigation into the sinking.
But relatives have accused the government of trying to influence the probe by appointing officials to key posts in the 17-member inquiry committee.