Sunday 25 February 2018

South Korea to raise disaster ferry

Public safety and security minister Park In-yong, right, and oceans and fisheries minister Yoo Ki-june reveal plans to salvage the Sewol (AP)
Public safety and security minister Park In-yong, right, and oceans and fisheries minister Yoo Ki-june reveal plans to salvage the Sewol (AP)

South Korea has approved plans to salvage a ferry that sank in a disaster that killed more than 300 people.

Raising the ferry Sewol is one of demands made by bereaved families, who hope that might help reveal details about the cause of the sinking last year and find bodies of the nine people still missing.

But critics are sceptical that salvaging the ship will provide new revelations.

The bodies of 295 people have already been recovered. Most were high school pupils who were on a trip to a southern resort island.

Public safety and security minister Park In-yong said the government endorsed a request by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries to hoist the ship from the sea bed off the country's south-west coast.

President Park Geun-hye promised to salvage the ship during a ceremony last week marking the first anniversary of the disaster.

Her government had faced criticism from relatives of the victims and their supporters who say officials were reluctant to start work to lift the ship due to expected high costs.

In the first several months after the sinking, relatives had opposed raising the ship because they worried that would damage the bodies of those believed to be trapped inside the submerged ship or allow them to be swept away.

Salvaging the ship is estimated to cost £61-92 million and take as long as 18 months, according to the oceans ministry.

The ministry said the government would first select a company to lift the Sewol in two months before formulating detailed salvaging plans in the following months.

Oceans Minister Yoo Ki-june said some of the salvage work, such as removing remaining oil from the sunken ship and deploying barges where workers can stay near the site, are expected to start as early as September.

A year after the sinking, there is lingering public anger over the government's handling of the disaster, with the start of an investigation by a special committee still stalled over the issue of personnel make-up. Violence erupted on Saturday at a Seoul rally led by bereaved families and their supporters, leaving dozens of people injured.

In the aftermath of the accident, authorities arrested about 140 people, including crew members and ferry company employees. They blamed overloading of cargo, improper storage, botched rescue efforts and other negligence for the incident, but critics say higher-level officials have not been held accountable.

Press Association

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