Efforts to transport the ill-fated ferry Sewol to shore are entering their final phase, the government said Wednesday, despite bad weather temporarily interrupting operations.
"We will finish fixing the Sewol to the semisubmersible transportation ship and other preparations by tomorrow," said Lee Cheol-jo, the head of a joint team of South Korean government officials and Chinese workers from Shanghai Salvage.
"The exact timing of the departure will be decided later in accordance with the weather condition at the time," the official said, adding that the operation is moving forward on schedule, even though salvage workers suspended their operations due to high waves and strong winds.
The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said earlier that the salvage vessel will head for Mokpo, some 90 kilometers away, on Thursday.
The Sewol, which capsized in waters off the southwest coast in 2014, resulted in over 300 deaths, with nine bodies yet to be recovered. The ferry is currently on board a huge semisubmersible transportation ship, a week after the salvage operation to raise it from the bottom of the sea started.
When the ferry is safely placed on a dry dock in port, the government said a search for nine missing people whose bodies could still be inside the wreck will be started.
An eight-member independent fact-finding body will take charge of the mission.
Also, the ministry said operators will search for any bodies left in the water and on the sea floor, where the Sewol sank. This effort will commence in early April.
The South Korean government has been under fire for making a false announcement on Tuesday that human remains had been found from the sunken ferry. A few hours later, however, the bone fragments were found out to be from animals.
The announcement had raised hopes for retrieving the first remains of a victim in nearly three years.
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)