Sewol Ferry To Be Lifted Out of Water in Early April

Allison Bae , March 14, 2017, 9:58 a.m.

The sunken Sewol ferry may be brought to the surface of the water in early April, almost three years after it capsized with nearly 300 passengers onboard. 

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said Tuesday that final preparations are currently under way to lift the wreckage of the 6,825-ton passenger ferry, which lies 40 meters down on the sea bed.

“The salvage operation is making progress to lift the sunken Sewol ferry,” said the ministry official, adding that the ferry may be raised by April 5 and then transported to a port in Mokpo for inspection.

Two jack-up barges, which will lift the hull of the ship, have arrived and the salvage team is currently working to connect beams which were placed beneath the ferry, to the jack-up barges. 

If the process proceeds smoothly, the lifting will begin without delay. It is expected to take 10-15 days for the entire wreck to be pulled out from the water, ministry officials said. 

Lifting a ship of this size in such a method has never before been tried, they added.

The Sewol ferry was carrying 476 people -- mostly students on a school trip -- when it capsized and sank off the southwestern island of Jindo in April 2014. Just 172 passengers were rescued. Nine bodies are still unaccounted for.

Lifting the sunken ship has been a key demand of the victims’ families. 

The salvage project, carried out by a Chinese-led consortium, began in June last year with the target of bringing the ferry to the surface by the end of July.

But with work postponed several times due to adverse weather and technical problems, the timeline for raising the Sewol was repeatedly put back to August, September, and then October.

In 2015, the government announced the salvage operation plan and selected Chinese consortium Shanghai Salvage to spearhead the 85 million won ($72.5 million) project. Shanghai Salvage is a state-led company with over 1,400 naval professionals.

Earlier this year, Shanghai Salvage said during the ministry’s press briefing that it will complete the operation of lifting the vessel by June.

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