Sunken Sewol Ferry Ship Can Be Raised

luvsmiling, Feb. 9, 2015, 10:20 a.m.

A government-civilian investigation team has concluded that it is technically possible to raise the ferry Sewol that sank off the southwestern coast on April 15 last year.  "In a meeting last Thursday, a technical review taskforce under the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries reached the conclusion that it's technically possible to raise the sunken ferry," a government official said Saturday. 

The taskforce is expected to submit a report to the Ministry of Public Safety and Security in mid-March.  The 23-man taskforce consists of civilian experts in shipping, maritime science, and deep-sea diving and government officials, who have been looking into the question since November last year. 

"We focused on raising the ferry without cutting the hull into pieces by using a 10,000-ton and an 8,000-ton maritime crane," a participant in Thursday's meeting said. "We expect it'll cost some W100 billion (US$1=W1,090) and take more than a year to raise it." 

The hull would first be chained to the cranes and then dragged into shallower waters to search for the remains of a handful of missing passengers, and brought to shore on a floating dock built in situ.

The port side of the ferry tilts and part of the hull lies on the seabed 43 m below the surface, with its starboard some 20 m below the surface. The idea is to drill lifting holes on the starboard and hook this part of the hull with about 100 chains to the cranes, which would raise the port side of the ferry slightly so that the hull rises 3 to 4 m above the seabed. 

This would make it possible to move the ferry to a "safer area" that is only 25-30 m deep and where currents are weak.  The taskforce is looking for two or three such safe areas near the point of disaster. Once the ship is hauled to safe and relatively shallow waters, the starboard would be a mere 3 to 4 m below the surface. 

A final round of underwater searches would then be carried out for the nine missing passengers.  But it remains to be seen whether the government gives the go-ahead. The biggest problem is the W100 billion cost, which would have to be shouldered by the taxpayer since the ferry operator, Cheonghaejin Marine, has unraveled. 

An expert warned that the cost could rise if bad weather delays the operation.  Public opinion could also play a role in the decision. In a survey of 1,003 people across the country by Gallup Korea on Feb. 3-5, 61 percent of respondents were in favor of raising the ferry but 31 percent against.

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