Operation to lift South Korean sunken ferry suspended
SEOUL, South Korea – Strong waves forced the suspension of an operation to lift a South Korean ferry that sank in 2014 in a disaster that shocked and enraged the country, a spokesman said Tuesday, June 14.
The Sewol was carrying 476 people when it sank off the southwestern island of Jindo in April 2014, with the loss of 304 lives – most of them schoolchildren.
Attempts to raise the bow of the vessel that began on Sunday afternoon, June 12, marked the start of a long and difficult process to bring the wreckage to the surface, a key demand of victims' families who hope 9 bodies still unaccounted for may yet be recovered.
But high waves and strong winds compelled a salvage company to put off the operation Monday, June 13, after lifting the bow slightly, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said.
"The operation will resume late this month when weather improves and tides are weak, a ministry spokesman told Agence France-Presse.
The bow of the ship was lifted by 2.2º or about 4 meters (13 feet) during the operation but lifting wires sawed into the wreck because of jolts from the waves, forcing the company to suspend the work, he said.
Once the bow is lifted, lifting beams will be put underneath, and work will follow in the same way on the stern section.
Buoys will then be placed underneath the wreck to reduce gravity before giant floating cranes start pulling up cables.
"It's difficult to predict exactly when the ship will be brought to the surface but we now hope to do so sometime in August", he added.
Seoul last year announced plans to salvage the 6,825-ton ship and selected a Chinese consortium led by state-run Shanghai Salvage Co. to spearhead the $72 million project.
The Sewol lies more than 40 meters (130 feet) beneath the surface, and officials say lifting the 145-meter-long vessel from the seabed without causing it to break up will be the main challenge.
A naval architect involved in the project put the success rate at 80% at a press briefing in April, saying lifting a wreck in one piece from such a depth had never been done before.
The disaster was mainly due to human error – an illegal redesign of the ship, an overloaded cargo bay, inexperienced crew and a questionable relationship between the ship operators and state regulators.
Captain Lee Jun-Seok was sentenced to life in prison for "murder through willful negligence" and sentences ranging from two to 12 years were handed down to 14 other crew members. – Rappler.com