The government said Friday that the salvage team successfully raised the sunken ferry Sewol to the target height above the sea, opening the way for its eventual transport to a nearby port.
The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said that the upper part of the hull of the Sewol was some 13 meters above the sea as of 11:10 a.m. some two days after the test-lifting began Wednesday.
It said efforts are now under way to move the ferry onto a semisubmersible ship waiting at a safe area some 3 kilometers southeast from the sinking site before midnight when the neap tide period ends. The next neap tide is not until April 5.
The raising of the ship has been delayed for nearly a day as a ramp on the left rear side had been hanging down under water and hindering the recovery operation.
As of 6:45 a.m., the joint team of the government and a Shanghai salvage firm cut off all four hinges of the left rear ramp, and have been moving forward with the salvage operation.
The ministry said the weather conditions are very critical in moving the Sewol, accompanied by two barges, to the semisubmersible ship as the balance of the ropes linking the three boats needs to be maintained carefully. The Sewol and two barges will be led by tow boats.
If the Sewol is safely placed on the semisubmersible ship, it will take three or four days to untie the ropes from the barges and bind them to the semisubmersible ship. This process is affected less by the weather, the government added.
An additional five days is needed to move the ship to the port and haul it onto a dry dock.
After the ferry safely leaves the accident site, the ministry said divers will search carefully for any remains left in the water and on the sea floor. Authorities said underwater fences surrounding the area where the Sewol sank have been set up.
Efforts to raise the 145-meter-long, 6,825-ton ship that had been lying about 40 meters under water began Wednesday, some three years after it capsized off the southwest coast of the peninsula near the island of Jindo, while en route to the resort island of Jeju on April 16, 2014.
Its sinking, the worst maritime disaster in the country's history, left 304 people dead, including nine still missing.
Earlier, the Seoul government decided to pull the ferry out of the water intact in order to protect any remains of people still missing from the tragic sinking and carry out a detailed investigation into the ship's sinking.
The 85.1 billion-won (US$72 million) project to recover the ship is being conducted by a Chinese consortium led by China's state-run Shanghai Salvage. (Yonhap)