The SEWOL South Korean ferry that sank and killed more than 300 people in 2014 is finally ready to be brought to shore, after being loaded onto transport vessel.
The operation has completed what was seen as the most difficult part of the massive effort to bring the ship back to shore.
Government officials said it will take a week or two to bring the vessel to a port 90 kilometres away so that investigators could search for the remains of nine missing people, who were among the 304 who died when the Sewol capsized on April 16, 2014.
Most of the victims were students on a high school trip, touching off an outpouring of national grief and soul searching about long-ignored public safety and regulatory failures.
Public outrage over what was seen as a botched rescue job by the government contributed to the recent ouster of Park Geun-hye as president.
“We just got over one hump … we are trying hard to stay calm,” Lee Geum-hee, the mother of a missing school girl, said.
Bringing the Sewol back to the port in Mokpo would be a step toward finding closure to one of the country’s deadliest disasters.
Once the ferry reaches land, government officials said it would take about a month for the ship to be cleaned and evaluated for safety.
Families demand input into investigation
Investigators will then enter the wreckage and begin a three-month search for the remains of the missing victims and for clues further illuminating the cause of the sinking, which has been blamed on overloaded cargo, improper storage and other negligence.
Relatives of the missing victims, some of whom who were watching from two fishing boats just outside the operation area, cried as the blue-and-white right side of the ferry, rusty and scratched and with its painted name “SEWOL” no longer visible, emerged from the waters on Thursday morning.
A group representing the victim’s families has also demanded that it be part of an investigation committee that will be formed to further study the cause of the ship’s sinking.
The ferry’s captain is serving a life prison sentence for committing homicide through “wilful negligence” because he fled the ship without ordering an evacuation.