March 23, 2017 09:49
The sunken ferry Sewol was lifted 9 m off the bottom of the ocean on Wednesday night, promising that the wreck will fully emerge to the surface some time in the late afternoon Thursday.
The ship, which is 144.6 m long and 22 m wide, sank on April 16, 2014 in the worst disaster in modern Korean history, taking over 300 mostly young passengers to the bottom with her.
Empty, the ferry weighed 6,800 tons, but with the accumulation of debris and water it now weighs more than 10,000 tons. The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said salvage workers lifted the ferry about 1 m from the seabed at around 3:30 p.m. to check if the hull remains straight and found no warping.
The Sewol lay on its left side 44 m under the sea and salvage workers are lifting it in that position without turning it upright for fear that the hull might snap in half.
The search for any remains of missing passengers trapped inside the hull will not be possible right away. First it needs to be tied to a barge and towed 1.7 km away to a semi-submersible structure, where workers will empty out the seawater trapped in the hull.
A ministry official said it will take about 13 days before the ferry can be brought to dry land. Nine passengers are still officially missing, but the passenger list was apparently incomplete.
There are fears that the hull could cave in while search efforts are under way, and debris and mud need to be cleared out. Government officials said search efforts will also focus on the seabed where the ferry lay.
Salvage workers at first wanted to cut off the passenger cabin section and turn it upright in order to search for the bodies of the missing, but the families of victims took out an injunction against it because they fear that this could damage evidence pointing to the cause of the disaster. A ministry official said, "We will pursue search efforts in negotiation with the victims' families."
The government has not decided what to do with the ferry once search efforts are complete. It remains to be seen whether it will be scrapped or preserved.
The salvage project costs W85.1 billion and is being handled by a Chinese consortium led by state-run Shanghai Salvage (US$1=W1,125). Salvage work started in August 2015, and the ferry was originally slated to be hoisted out of the water in July last year. Shanghai Salvage had planned to use cranes but ran into trouble and switched to barges.
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