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Thursday 27 April 2017

South Korean ferry in which 304 died lifted from the sea

A part of the Sewol ferry is seen in waters off Jindo, South Korea, nearly three years after it capsized and sank (Yonhap via AP)
A part of the Sewol ferry is seen in waters off Jindo, South Korea, nearly three years after it capsized and sank (Yonhap via AP)

A South Korean ferry that sank nearly three years ago killing more than 300 people has been lifted from the water.

The loss of the Sewol in violent seas on on April 16 2014 touched off an outpouring of national grief, as most of those who died were students on a high school trip.

There was soul searching about long-ignored public safety and regulatory failures, and the public outrage over what was seen as a botched rescue job by the government contributed to the recent ousting of Park Geun-hye as president.

Workers on two barges began the salvaging operation off the country's south-western coast on Wednesday night.

They rolled up 66 cables connected to a frame of metal beams that divers spent months putting beneath the ferry, which had been lying on its left side in about 130 feet of water.

By 3.45am local time, Sewol's stabiliser surfaced from the water. About an hour later, the blue-and-white right side of the ferry emerged for the first time in more than 1,000 days.

By about 7am, the ferry had been raised enough for workers to climb on it and further fasten it to the barges.

Lee Cheoljo, an official from the ministry of oceans and fisheries, told reporters that workers will need until late afternoon or the evening to raise the ferry until its upper side is about 42 feet above the surface.

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

The bodies of 295 passengers were recovered after the sinking, but nine are still missing.

Relatives, some of whom who were watching from two fishing boats just outside the operation area, are hoping that those remains will be found inside the ferry.

"I can see it. I can see where my daughter is," Park Eun-mi, the mother of a missing 17-year-old girl, told a television crew as her boat approached the salvaging site.

Lee Geum-hee, the mother of another missing student, said: "We just want one thing - for the ship to be pulled up so that we can take our children home."

Once the ferry reaches a port 55 miles away in the city of Mokpo, in about two weeks, workers will begin clearing the mud and debris and search for the remains of the missing victims.

An investigation committee will also be formed to search for clues that could further explain the cause of the sinking, which has been blamed on overloaded cargo, improper storage and other negligence.

The ferry's captain survived and is serving a life sentence after a court found him guilty of committing homicide through "wilful negligence" because he fled the ship without issuing an evacuation order.

Ms Park was forced to defend herself against accusations that she was out of contact for several hours on the day of the sinking.

The allegations were included in an impeachment bill parliamentarians passed against her in December, amid broader corruption suspicions.

Ms Park was formally removed from office by the Constitutional Court earlier this month.

She is now under criminal investigation over suspicions that she conspired with a confidante to extort money and favours from companies and allow the friend to secretly interfere with state affairs.

The government initially planned to salvage the ferry by the end of last year, but the process was delayed due to strong currents and unfavourable weather.

AP

Press Association

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