Salvage workers are set to begin the grim and dangerous task of searching the wreck of South Korea’s Sewol ferry, the Maritime Ministry said Monday, after releasing a stark image of the vessel’s devastated interior.
Following a complex salvage operation, the raised ferry was finally placed on dry land on Sunday, nearly three years after it sank with the loss of more than 300 lives – most of them schoolchildren.
The bodies of nine victims have never been found, and the 145-meter Sewol was raised intact at the relatives insistence to prevent any trapped remains being lost.
A group of four salvage workers had entered the vessel through a window for initial inspections, but swiftly withdrew for fear of being trapped by unstable debris, the ministry said.
Before they left, one took a photo – later released by the ministry – of a cabin section on the fourth-floor deck that had been used by male students.
It showed shattered wall and floor panels, twisted steel pipes and broken wooden furniture piled up across the floor.
“We will first clean and disinfect the ship and then carry out thorough safety checks,” said Lee Cheol-Jo, a senior official in charge of the salvage operation.
He added that a detailed plan for the search of the missing victims would be announced as early as this weekend.
Back at the actual salvage site, a team of more than 30 divers have been scouring the sea bed for any human remains or personal effects belonging to the victims.
The Sewol sinking was one of the country’s worst-ever maritime disasters, which dealt a crushing blow to now-ousted president Park Geun-hye.
Investigations concluded the tragedy was the result of numerous human factors, including an illegal redesign, an overloaded cargo bay and inexperienced crew.