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South Korea ferry disaster

Possible human remains found after Sewol ferry raised from seabed

The remains were recovered on board the semi-submersible carrying the ferry, Yonhap said

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 3:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 10:45pm

Salvage workers who raised South Korea’s sunken Sewol ferry have found remains believed to be one of the victims missing since the 2014 disaster, the maritime ministry said Tuesday.

The ministry said in a statement it would hold a briefing on “finding human remains suspected to be one of the missing victims”.

The wreck was brought to the surface last week, nearly three years after it went down killing more than 300 people, and placed onto a semi-submersible ship that will finally bring it to shore.

Almost all the victims were schoolchildren and nine bodies were still unaccounted for, raising the prospect that they could be trapped inside the vessel.

The remains were recovered on board the semi-submersible carrying the ferry, Yonhap news agency said, without immediately giving further details or citing a source.

Yonhap said officials from the National Forensic Service as well as ministry officials and police have been dispatched to the site to identify the remains.

The 145-metre ship was brought to the surface in a complex salvage operation believed to be among the largest recoveries ever of a wreck in one piece.

Doing so had been a key demand of the families of the nine missing victims - four schoolchildren, two teachers, and a married couple and their child who were moving to Jeju, the ship’s destination, to set up a new life.

Divers wrapped up their search in November 2014, and since then a handful of relatives set up home at Paengmok, a port an hour away from the accident site.

Earlier Tuesday, the relatives of the missing passengers participated in an emotional memorial service on a boat near the transport vessel holding the ferry, where representatives of Catholic and Protestant churches and Buddhists delivered prayers wishing for the remains of the nine to be recovered.

Relatives threw into the sea yellow roses, a colour that has become the symbol of their suffering, and watched from afar as crews on the transport vessel continued to empty the ferry of water and fuel.

“The ship has come up, but not the nine people inside it,” Lee Geum-hee, the mother of a missing schoolgirl, told a television crew.

“Please don’t forget there are people inside the dirty, rusty and smelly wreckage. ... Please do the best and let us bring them back home.”

The semi-submersible is expected to set off for Mokpo, a large port on the southern coast some 87 kilometres away, on Thursday.

As part of the salvage operation, underwater fences were set up around the wreck and searches will be carried out in the area as well as on board the Sewol.

The salvage came as the third anniversary approached of one of the country’s worst-ever maritime disasters, which dealt a crushing blow to now-ousted president Park Geun-hye.

Investigations concluded the disaster was largely man-made - the cumulative result of an illegal redesign, an overloaded cargo bay, inexperienced crew and a questionable relationship between the ship operators and state regulators.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press