Salvage workers are speeding up their preparation work to get the Sewol ferry ready for transport to port, government officials said Tuesday.
The Sewol, which capsized in waters off the southwest coast in 2014 that resulted in over 300 deaths, with nine of the bodies yet to be recovered, is currently on board a huge semisubmersible transportation ship, a week after the salvage operation began last Wednesday.
A joint team of South Korean government officials and Chinese workers from Shanghai Salvage finished draining the water and oil out of the ferry, which has been submerged in 40 meters of water for nearly three years.
The crew is now fastening and fixing the Sewol to the transportation ship before heading for the port of Mokpo, some 90 kilometers away, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said.
The ministry said earlier that the salvage vessel will set sail Thursday and arrive at the port on the following day.
"We are speeding up the preparation work, but we need to check further to see if the schedule can be moved up," a ministry official said.
When the semisubmersible ship arrives at Mokpo on Friday as planned, it will take up to five days to haul the 6,800-ton vessel to a dry dock.
Once the Sewol is safely placed on the dock, operators will look for the nine missing people whose bodies could still be inside the wreck. The search could begin April 10 after workers complete disinfecting the ship, the ministry said.
At the same time, an eight-member fact-finding body will launch a probe to determine the exact cause of the tragedy.
Also, the ministry said a search for any bodies left in the water and on the sea floor, where the Sewol sank, will commence in early April.
The project to pull the ferry out of the water intact was aimed at recovering the bodies of the people still missing and conducting a detailed investigation into the disaster.
The South Korean government decided to push forward with the 85.1 billion-won (US$72 million) project in 2015, with the Chinese consortium led by the state-run Shanghai Salvage winning the bid. (Yonhap)