Experts Investigate Raising of Sunken Ferry

      January 26, 2015 13:00

      Experts on Sunday started an underwater probe that will determine if and when the ferry Sewol that sank in a deadly disaster last April can be raised.

      A 2,000-ton barge carrying 10 Korean and foreign maritime IT experts was sent to the point where the ferry sank 3.3 km north of Jindo, South Jeolla Province. They will spend till Wednesday sending an unmanned underwater vehicle 37 m below the surface to videotape the hull of the ferry buried in the seabed in order to assemble a 3-D video. The equipment will also collect exact location data by pinging sounds off the hull.

      "If we synthesize the collected data we get a super-resolution 3-D video of the ferry," said Dr. Lee Yong-kook of the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology, who leads the team. "The data will help determine whether the ferry can be raised or not."

      When underwater searches ended on Nov. 11 last year, the government promised to continue to work to recover the ship.

      The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries launched a task force on Nov. 27 to prepare the underwater probe. The team is expected to draw up a report by March. The final decision will likely come in April or May.

      Three factors have to be considered. The first is the condition of the hull, and the 3-D video will show how bad any cracks are. Experts can then determine whether to try and lift the ferry out whole or to cut it into pieces first. The second is the seafloor. The port side of the ferry tilts and part of the hull is buried in the mud.

      A ministry official said, "As a result of an underwater probe on Jan. 10-14, we found that there'll be no big problem hauling up the ferry, because the seafloor is flat with barely any rocks."

      The last is dangerous working conditions. Experts will install five current meters in the waters to measure current speeds and current flow direction so the risk to drivers assisting the operation can be calculated. Raising the ship will cost at least W100 billion (US$1=W1,084). In principle, the ferry operator Cheonghaejin Marine should bear the costs, but it has unraveled and lacks the money so the taxpayer has to step in.

      The government is going all out to seize the late ferry owner's and his family's assets but will probably not be able to recover more than a fraction of the cost. "The government can't decide this unilaterally. The final decision will be made once some kind of public consensus is achieved," a government official said.

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