South Korea begins raising sunken ferry

Donggeochado: Salvage operators began raising South Korea’s sunken Sewol ferry on Wednesday, officials said, nearly three years after the disaster killed more than 300 people and dealt a crippling blow to now-ousted president Park Geun-Hye.
Emotional parents of victims — the vast majority of the dead in the country’s worst-ever maritime tragedy were schoolchildren — urged people to pray for a successful recovery.
The vessel was lying more than 40 metres below the waves off southwestern South Korea and the operation, originally scheduled for last year, had been pushed back several times because of adverse weather.
It is thought that nine bodies still unaccounted for may be trapped inside the sunken ship, and raising the ferry intact has been a key demand of the victims’ families.
“I am a mother who just really misses her daughter. Please pray for us so we can go home with Eun-Hwa,” said Lee Keum-Hui, one of a handful of relatives who have been living in makeshift homes at Paengmok, the closest port to the wreck, since the accident.
“We will be grateful if you pray with us so that the last remaining victims can return to their families,” she said, breaking down.
Other bereaved family members have been maintaining a vigil at a camp on a hilltop on Donggeochado, the nearest island to the site, just 1.5 kilometres away.
Yellow ribbons — a symbol for the victims of the deadly disaster — hang on nearby trees, their colour faded by the course of time.
In a tense atmosphere, one victim’s father nervously watched through binoculars, trying to get a glimpse of the operation.
“We will not clear the camp even when the Sewol is raised,” he said, declining to be named. “You never know what you will find beneath the sunken ferry.” Some 50 bereaved family members were watching the proceedings out at sea, he added.
Two enormous barges were positioned on either side of the 6,825-tonne ship and air bags inserted for the salvage effort, which is being led by a Chinese consortium.
Beams were installed by digging through the seabed underneath the wreck, which was lying on its side, and cables attached to bring it painstakingly towards the surface.
Once two-thirds of it is exposed, a semi-submersible will be positioned underneath to raise it out of the water and transport it to the port of Mokpo to carry out investigations and search for the missing.
A senior official from the maritime ministry said it took three hours to raise the wreck one metre off the seabed in what was initially a feasibility test.
The ministry then decided to go ahead with the full lifting, it said in a statement. The operation is expected to take three days.
The disaster and its aftermath gripped South Korea and overshadowed the presidency of Park, who stayed at her residence for seven hours in the crucial initial phase of the sinking. —- AFP