Recovered Sewol set for transport to Mokpo around Thursday
Bob Sung, March 27, 2017, 9:44 a.m.
The Sewol ferry that was raised from the bottom of the sea last week will head to port in the next few days after salvage crews complete drainage and repair work, the government said Monday.
"The semisubmersible ship and the Sewol will be able to embark for Mokpo around Thursday," Lee Cheol-jo, in charge of the salvage operation at the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, said in a televised press briefing in Jindo, some 472 kilometers southwest of Seoul.
"It will take eight hours to sail the 105-kilometer route to reach the port," he said.
A joint team of workers from the South Korean government and the Chinese firm Shanghai Salvage are currently working to drain the water and oil from the ferry after it was safely loaded onto a semisubmersible transport vessel Saturday.
The drainage work is expected to be finished by Tuesday, he said.
Then, it will take an additional two days to fix key parts of the ferry so it can be made ready for transport.
Once the ship arrives at the port around Friday, it will take four or five days to haul the ship onto a dry dock at Mokpo.
Maritime Minister Kim Young-suk said operators will look for nine missing people whose remains could still be inside the wreck at around April 10 after finishing preparations including disinfecting the ship.
"After placing the ship on the deck, we expect that the search for the bodies of the nine missing people can start in earnest," Kim told reporters. "The detailed schedule, procedure and means of the search will be decided later through discussions with the bereaved families of the missing people."
Also, divers will search carefully for any remains left in the water and on the sea floor, where the Sewol sank, starting early April, according to the official. Authorities said underwater fences surrounding the area where the Sewol sank have already been set up.
The minister said a joint funeral for all of the victims will be held some time in April.
A special law to launch a fact-finding board will likely be passed by parliament on Tuesday that will allow experts to determine the exact cause of the sinking.
It will be comprised of eight experts, including Kong Gil-young, a professor at Korean Maritime and Ocean University, and Jang Beom-seon, a professor from Seoul National University. Of those sitting on the board, five will be recommended by political parties and three by the bereaved family members.
When the ferry is placed on the dock at the port of Mokpo around April 4, the board will begin its task of going through every aspect of the tragedy for the next 10 months, according to the government.
"The government will give full support to the fact-finding board to carry out their mission," said the minister.
A total of 304 people, most of whom were high school students on a school trip, died when the ferry sank on April 16, 2014, with investigators concluding that the sinking was a man-made disaster. Nine bodies are still missing.
The operation to lift the sunken ferry, lying 40 meters underwater for nearly three years, began Wednesday on a tight schedule as it had to be carried out during the neap tide period, which ended Friday at midnight.
The ill-fated ship was pulled out of the water with two giant barges that hoisted up the 6,800-ton hull and moved it to the semisubmersible ship, which will carry the Sewol to shore.
In 2015, in order to recover the bodies of people still missing and conduct a detailed investigation into the disaster, the South Korean government decided to pull the ferry out of the water intact.
The 85.1 billion won (US$72 million) project went to a Chinese consortium led by state-run Shanghai Salvage.