The Sewol ferry that was raised from the bottom of the sea last week will head to port later in the next few days after salvage crews complete drainage and repair work in the next three days, the government said Monday.
"The semisubmersible ship and the Sewol will be able to embark for Mokpo around Thursday," Lee Cheol-jo, in charge of the salvage operation at the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, said in a televised press briefing in Jindo, some 472 kilometers southwest of Seoul.
"It will take eight hours to sail the 105-kilometer route to reach the port," he said.
A joint team of workers from the South Korean government and the Chinese firm of Shanghai Salvage are currently working to drain the water and oil from the ferry after it was safely loaded onto a semisubmersible transport vessel Saturday.
The drainage work is expected to be finished by Tuesday, he said.
Then, it will take an additional two days to fix key parts of the ferry so it can be made ready for transport.Lee said a search for the bodies of nine missing people whose remains could still be inside the wreck will begin once the ship arrives at the port of Mokpo.
Also, divers will search carefully for any remains left in the water and on the sea floor, where the Sewol sank, starting in early April, according to the official. Authorities said underwater fences surrounding the area where the Sewol sank have already been set up.
A total of 304 people, most of whom were high school students on a school trip, died when the ferry sank on April 16, 2014, with investigators concluding that the sinking was a man-made disaster. Nine bodies are still missing.
The operation to lift the sunken ferry, lying 40 meters under water for nearly three years, began Wednesday on a tight schedule as it had to be carried out during the neap tide period, which ended Friday at midnight.
The ill-fated ship was pulled out of the water with two giant barges that hoisted up the 6,800-ton hull and moved it to the semisubmersible ship, which will carry the Sewol to shore.
In 2015, in order to recover the bodies of people still missing and conduct a detailed investigation into the disaster, the South Korean government decided to pull the ferry out of the water intact.
The 85.1 billion-won (US$72 million) project went to a Chinese consortium led by the state-run Shanghai Salvage. (Yonhap)