MOKPO, South Jeolla Province -- The Sewol ferry had departed from Incheon on a misty morning on April 15, 2014 for a routine 13-hour voyage to the southern resort island of Jeju.
But the passenger ship, now a rusted wreck, reached the end of its voyage at Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, on Friday afternoon, 1,801 days after its departure.
With families of the victims of the sinking almost three years ago and ordinary citizens watching, the salvaged ferry, loaded on a transport vessel, arrived at Mokpo Port at 1:15 p.m. Friday.
The Sewol ferry is brought to a port in Mokpo on Friday after it was lifted from where it sank some three years ago in the country’s southwestern waters. (Yonhap)
“It arrived safely six days after we lifted the hull,” said Lee Cheol-jo, a ministry official who is in charge of the salvage operation.
Sewol’s sinking on April 16, 2014 was the nation’s worst maritime disaster, which left over 300 dead or missing. The victims were mostly high school students on a field trip.
As Sewol set sail for the final voyage at around 7 a.m. from the wreck site off Jindo, South Jeolla Province, families of the nine missing passengers followed it on a small boat.
“Let’s go home my daughter. Sorry for making you wait for so long,” said Park Eun-mi, a mother of one of the missing Danwon High school student Huh Da-yoon.
The wife of Danwon High school teacher Yang Seung-jin said her only hope is to find the body so she can have a funeral for her husband.
“My husband has been stuck in dark and cold water for three years. I will certainly find his body when we reach the shore,” said Yoo Baek-hyung who followed Sewol on the boat.
Other family members of the missing passengers, who have lived in makeshift houses at Paegnmok Port near the wreck site ever since the disaster, packed their bags to move to Mokpo Port.
The ill-fated vessel had been lying at a depth of 44 meters on the seabed for nearly three years before it was lifted out of the water on March 22.
A search of its interior for the missing passengers is likely to start only around April 10, the ministry said.
“Engineers still need to move the ferry into a dry dock, using a rail-like transporter,” Lee of the ministry said. The work could be complete by April 6, he added.
After sterilization and other safety procedures, the search team will check the ship for the nine missing passengers in the hope that their bodies are still inside.
In case the bodies are not found there, the team also plans to search the sea bed with sonar radar.
An on-site headquarters for the search operation opened at Mokpo Port on Friday. They also plan to provide necessary support to the bereaved families, such as psychotherapy treatments, funeral procedures and more.
By Kim Da-sol (email@example.com