Sewol moved to land after 1,089 days

Six hundred modular transporters, maneuvered under Sewol, carry the ferry from the semisubmersible recovery ship to a dry dock at Mokpo New Port in South Jeolla Province, Sunday. / Yonhap

Search inside ferry to begin to recover victims’ remains
By Lee Kyung-min

Salvage workers finally moved the Sewol ferry to a dry dock from the semisubmersible recovery ship on Sunday, 1,089 days after it sunk in the waters off the southwestern island of Jindo, government officials said.

They started the transfer at 1 p.m., using hundreds of modular transporters to roll the vessel onto a dry dock at Mokpo New Port in South Jeolla Province.

It took about 10 hours to complete the move. It came 18 days after the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries ran test operations on March 22 to raise the ferry that had been kept underwater for nearly three years since sinking on April 16, 2014.

The decision to move the ferry followed a successful final test operation of the transporters a day earlier.

“As we confirmed that the transporters worked without posing safety issues, we decided to move the ferry when the tide is at its highest,” said Lee Cheol-jo, a ministry official overseeing the salvage operation.

After the ship was moved to the dock completely, salvage workers turned the ferry about 90 degrees to have the ferry’s hull face the sea.

The 90-degree turn on the deck followed an adjusting process to ensure the weight is evenly distributed on the transporters, Lee added.

With the ferry’s hull facing the sea, the passenger compartment will also face the temporary campsite of the families of the nine missing victims set up on the dock.

The 600 transporters, divided into eight rows _ 60 of two and 80 of six _ to support the ferry that weighed more than 17,000 tons, lifted the ferry without any major problems late Saturday.

The ministry initially said 456 transporters would be used, but added 144 more, following concerns that the 6,800-ton ferry containing mud and seawater will require much more support.

As the ferry has been secured on the dock, the recovery crew will initiate a search of its interior, focusing on the third and fourth decks where the nine victims are believed to have stayed.

“First, we will make sure the ferry is safe for the crews to enter,” Lee said. “Sterilization and other measures are under consideration.”

Twenty experts including officials from the Coast Guard and firefighters will conduct search operations. National Forensic Service officials will be on standby to treat the recovered materials.

The special committee investigating the ferry will collect evidence to determine the cause of the sinking.

Camera-equipped robots and drones may be used in the process.

Meanwhile, an underwater search is ongoing inside the 200-meter-long, 160-meter-wide, three-meter-high fence set up earlier in the seabed at the point where the Sewol had been lying.

“More than 30 divers, in teams of two, began their work at 12:25 today. They will hand-search the area using a small shovel. Sonar radar will be also used,” Lee said.

With the primary object of the search being the remains of the unrecovered victims, underwater operations will continue for at least two months. All searches will be recorded by cameras on the helmets of the divers.

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