Sewol to be set upright for final search of missing victims

The hoisted Sewol seen on its side. Credit: PA

A South Korean government commission said on 9 May that the Sewol ferry, now lying on its side in Mokpo port, will be set upright on 10 May to make a final search for remains of five victims who remain missing.

The ferry capsized during a routine Incheon–Jeju journey on 16 April 2014, leaving 304 people dead or missing in one of the country’s worst maritime disasters.

Investigations showed that the aged ferry, which was 20 years old at the time, had been renovated to raise its carrying load and was habitually overloaded.

The inexperienced crew told the victims to stay in their cabins and wait for the Korea Coast Guard to arrive while the crew members escaped. Analysis showed that it took three hours for the Sewol to become submerged from the time it began listing, meaning that the passengers could have escaped had they left the vessel early.

Sewol captain Lee Jun-seok was jailed for life for homicide, while 14 surviving crew members were given imprisonment terms ranging from 2–12 years.

In the wake of the incident, 295 bodies were recovered.

In July 2015, a consortium led by Chinese state-owned salvage firm Shanghai Salvage was chosen to hoist the Sewol from the disaster spot in the Maenggol Channel of the Yellow Sea.

However, the lifting of the 6,825 gt Sewol was hampered by bad weather and the task of raising the vessel intact was made challenging by its massive size.

The vessel was finally lifted from the waters on 27 March 2017 and transported to Mokpo, where investigators found the remains of four more victims.

The Sewol Investigation Commission said current weather conditions have made it viable to place the ferry in an upright position.

Shipbuilder Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries has installed 66 steel beams under the ferry and its left side and has used wires to link the vessel to a 10,000-tonne floating crane.

The resetting of Sewol is expected to be completed by 10 June, while the final search for victims’ remains may take another three weeks, said the commission’s chairman, Kim Chang-an.

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