Will the Sewol Finally Be Salvaged?

Ben Jackson
Ben Jackson

After nearly three years, the Sewol may finally see the light of day. The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries has announced that the passenger ferry that sank off South Korea’s west coast with the loss of 304 lives is finally to be brought up from the seabed on April 5. These final stages of the Sewol raising operation come almost three years after the ship sank on April 16, 2014.

The salvage operation has become notorious for its delays. The government first announced recovery plans in April 2015, a year after the sinking. In August of the same year, a Chinese salvaging firm was chosen to carry out the task. One year later, the job was still not done. The ministry originally aimed to complete the operation by the autumn of 2016 — an endlessly delayed deadline, which now stands in spring of this year.

Amid the confusion, some families of victims of the disaster are still suspicious. “The government could have chosen a faster salvaging method that didn’t involve damaging the ship,” said Kim Young-oh, who lost his high school student daughter Yu-min in the accident. Kim claimed that the government deliberately chose a salvaging firm that allowed crucial evidence about the shipwreck to be destroyed. “They’ve already cut off crucial parts like the anchor and the propeller and taken them away,” he said.

Kim also criticized the post-salvaging plans. “The government wants to cut up the Sewol in just one week after it reaches Mokpo,” Kim adds. “But it’s not necessary to dismantle it to conduct a search for the remaining bodies. There must be a proper investigation.”

The main investigative body, the Special Sewol Investigative Commission, ended on Sep. 30, 2016, despite the efforts of dissenting members who attempted, without success, to extend and reopen the investigations. They claimed that the truth about the accident has yet to be determined and cannot be fully disclosed while the ship remains underwater.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries’s Sewol salvage team has not responded to ké radar’s request for information regarding Kim’s criticisms or plans for the post-salvage investigation.

Shanghai Salvage will use two large jacking barges to pull up wires attached to each end of the Sewol as it lies on the seabed. Once brought to the surface, the ferry will be placed on a semi-submersible ship and taken to New Mokpo Port, some 80 km from its current resting place. The operation is not guaranteed to succeed, and further delays are not impossible, especially in an area notorious for its fierce water currents and weather changes.

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