By Wendy Laursen 2015-08-19 19:38:14
Salvage work on the Sewol ferry began in South Korea on Wednesday when divers started surveying the condition of the vessel in order to finalize plans for raising it.
The survey is expected to take several weeks, as the country is trying to recover the ship without any serious damage to the vessel or any remains of people still missing.
Sewol ship sank April 16, 2014 en route to the southern resort island of Jeju. The disaster saw 304 people killed, most of them students on a school excursion. There are nine people still unaccounted for.
The $72 million project to recover the ferry was awarded to a Chinese consortium led by China’s state-run Shanghai Salvage. The consortium has brought 96 divers in to study the condition of the ferry and the notoriously strong currents at the location.
The vessel is expected to be hoisted from the seabed early next year and have the project completed before the end of June.
The vessel lies in 40 meters of water and will be lifted using metal beams. If successful, it will be a salvage industry first, as a ferry as heavy as 6,700-tons has never been lifted before without cutting it into separate parts. With water inside, the Sewol is estimated to weigh about 8,500 tons.
Airbags will initially be used to raise the vessel from the seabed so that the beams can be inserted underneath the ferry. Cranes will then lift it on to a submerged platform to bring it to the surface.
The salvors will net the ship to prevent any contents being lost.
Some South Koreans have questioned whether the expense of the salvage is merited, given the slim chance of finding any more bodies or uncovering any fresh evidence regarding the cause of the tragedy.
There is also a risk for the divers involved. South Korean divers, working in dangerous conditions with strong currents and low visibility, recovered 295 bodies from Sewol before abandoning the search in November last year. One lost his life during the efforts.
Families of the victims have gathered on the island with placards wishing for the safe recovery of the nine bodies.