The wreck of the Sewol ferry, currently lying on its side at the southwestern port of Mokpo, is expected to placed in the upright position next month so search teams can carry out a detailed inspection of the vessel for the remains of people who have not been found, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said Thursday.
The 6,825-ton vessel capsized and sank in waters off the southwestern tip of South Korea on April 16, 2014. The nation's worst maritime disaster in decades claimed 304 lives, mostly high school students on a school trip, and led to a yearslong salvage operation.
A consortium led by China's state-run Shanghai Salvage brought the ship to the surface in a complex operation and moved it to the port in March 2017. Workers have removed water and mud from the ship and have reinforced the structure following its yearslong submergence, authorities said.
Under existing plans, efforts will be made to get the Sewol upright on May 31, and the subsequent search of the ship should take about two weeks. Afterwards, an investigation of the hull will be carried out to determine the exact cause of the accident, a special investigation committee said.
Operators work to drain water and mud from the Sewol ferry at the port of Mokpo on April 3, 2017. (Yonhap)
"We will first erect the ship safely and investigate the exact cause of its sinking until August," Kim Chang-jun, the chairman of Sewol investigation committee, said.
The committee said it will also collect public opinions on how to make use of the ill-fated ship. Possible options include preserving in its entirety to raise public awareness of the tragic incident and leaving part of it as a symbol of the ship.
The maritime disaster fueled widespread social and political upheaval in South Korea, partly contributing to the ousting of former President Park Geun-hye.
Her administration was blamed for botched rescue efforts in the initial stages and some senior officials were arrested over allegations of downplaying the government's culpability in the incident.
In March, prosecutors indicted four Park aides on charges of doctoring the time log of reports to the president. Prosecutors have been investigating allegations that Park's office deliberately altered the time she was first briefed on the accident in an apparent attempt to conceal the president's unaccounted whereabouts at the time of the sinking. (Yonhap)