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South Koreans Begin Tests to See If They Can Raise Sunken Ferry

  • Associated Press

Barges are seen during a salvage operation of sunken ferry Sewol at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 22, 2017.

South Korean workers have started tests to determine if they can begin salvaging a 6,800-ton ferry that sank in 2014, killing more than 300 people and triggering the initial public uproar that contributed to the recent ouster of Park Geun-hye as president.

An official from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said it was not clear if the salvage operations can begin Wednesday. He didn't want to be named, citing office rules.

Workers on two barges have started slipping as many as 66 cables beneath the Sewol ferry, which is lying on its left side in about 40 meters (130 feet) of water. The cables are connected to a frame of metal beams divers have spent months putting in place.

FILE - An unidentified mother of a high school student among 304 victims of sunken ferry Sewol in 2014 places a light stick on a life vest symbolizing the victims before a candle light vigil in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 7, 2017.
FILE - An unidentified mother of a high school student among 304 victims of sunken ferry Sewol in 2014 places a light stick on a life vest symbolizing the victims before a candle light vigil in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 7, 2017.

Once the salvage operations begin, it is expected to take at least 10 hours to raise the top part of the ferry above the surface.

Once the ferry is raised to that point, workers will begin loading it onto a semi-submersible, heavy-lift vessel to carry it to a mainland port. That process, including emptying the ferry of water and fuel, is expected to take days.

Workers also conducted tests to raise the ferry on Sunday, but delayed the operation after some of the cables got tangled.

The bodies of 295 passengers -- most of whom were students on a high school trip -- were recovered after the sinking in April 16, 2014, but nine are still missing. Relatives are hoping to find the remains of the missing inside the ferry.

The ferry disaster touched off an outpouring of national grief and triggered anger over what was seen as a botched rescue job by the government.

The ferry's captain survived but is now serving a life sentence after a court found him guilty of committing homicide for "willful negligence" because he fled the ship without issuing an evacuation order.

Park was forced to defend herself against accusations she was out of contact for several hours on the day of the sinking, which inspired yearslong protests by families of the victims and their supporters. The allegation was written into an impeachment bill lawmakers passed against Park in December amid broader corruption suspicions.

Park was formally removed from office following a ruling by the Constitutional Court earlier this month. She is now under a criminal investigation over suspicions that she conspired with a confidante to extort money and favors from companies and allow the friend to secretly interfere with state affairs.

South Korea initially planned to salvage the ferry by the end of last year, but the process was delayed due to strong currents around the island where the ferry sank and unfavorable weather conditions.

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