Salvage operators are making final preparations to transport the 6,800-ton ferry Sewol to port following improved weather conditions, the government said Thursday.
"We are trying to speed up the process of preparations for departure," the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said. "The captain of the semisubmersible ship will make the decision (to leave)."
The Sewol, which capsized in waters off the southwest coast in 2014, killing 295 with nine people still unaccounted for, was raised from the sea last week and placed on the transport vessel that will move it to Mokpo.
The ministry said the salvage operators are working on fixing the Sewol to the semisubmersible ship and completing other preparation like removing waste and oil from the ill-fated ferry.
The Sewol was scheduled to head for Mokpo on Thursday, but its departure has been delayed for nearly a day due to high waves and strong winds.
The ministry said a special team of 100 government officials, including those from the state forensic agency, has been formed to carry out a search for the missing people after the ferry is put on a dry dock in Mokpo next week.
The team will cooperate with an eight-member independent fact-finding body which is tasked with searching for the nine missing people, whose bodies could still be inside the wreck. It will also determine why the ship sank.
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)