Sewol ready for search for missing nine

By Lee Kyung-min

Salvage workers will complete the work to secure the ferry Sewol onto a dry dock today, after it was fully removed from the semisubmersible recovery ship, maritime authorities said Monday.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said the work, which began at 10 a.m. at Mokpo New Port in South Jeolla Province, will take about 24 hours.

The ministry will draw up details on how to search the ferry’s interior this weekend or early next week at the latest.

In the meantime, salvage teams will sterilize the interior and clean the surface of the ferry. An on-site inspection will be conducted to determine whether the ferry is safe for people to enter.

“We will thoroughly search the interior of the ferry,” said Lee Cheol-jo, the ministry official overseeing the salvage operation. “We will seek cooperation with the special committee investigating the ferry sinking.”

Severing the passenger compartment is not under consideration as of now, and will not be pursued unless all other options fail, Lee added.

Earlier, 600 modular transporters moved the ferry onto land at 5:55 p.m., Sunday, four hours and 40 minutes after it began moving the ferry from the transport vessel.

The ministry began to secure the Sewol by maneuvering three large props, which had been under the ferry while it was secured to the semisubmersible recovery ship, under it. After the props were secured to fully support the ferry, the transporters were removed.

The ministry initially sought to turn the ferry through 90 degrees immediately after it was on land while it was on the transporters to honor a request by the families of the nine missing victims.

They asked the ministry to alter the position so that the passenger compartment would face their temporary campsite, allowing them to see the third and fourth decks where their loved ones are believed to have stayed.

However, the ministry decided against this, following concerns that any additional moving of the ferry — which now weighs almost 17,000 tons — would further damage the already compromised vessel.

Securing the ferry to the dock comes nearly three weeks after the ministry ran a test operation, March 22, to raise the ferry that had been underwater for nearly three years since sinking on April 16, 2014.

The operation to search the interior of the ferry will focus on finding the remains and belongings of nine missing victims.

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

The special committee investigating the ferry will collect evidence to determine the exact reasons behind the sinking.

Meanwhile, underwater operations are ongoing to recover any remains on the seabed, with the work expected to continue for at least two months. All searches are being recorded by cameras on the helmets of the divers.

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