After waiting for more than one thousand days since it sank in waters off Jindo Island, the Sewol ferry has reached the water’s surface.
Nearly 300 passengers onboard perished in the sinking off the country’s southwestern island on April 16th of 2014, but nine victims are still missing.
To put an end to the mystery surrounding the tragic event, which also contributed to the impeachment of ex-President Park Geun-hye, the government on Wednesday started lifting the sunken ferry from the ocean floor.
The lifting was carried out speedily and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said it succeeded floating the ship 13 meters above the sea surface on Friday.
The government then towed the Sewol to a semisubmersible vessel and successfully placed it on the ship. The salvagers hope to be able to move the ferry to Mokpo port as early as Tuesday or Wednesday.
Once the Sewol is taken to land, the government will sterilize inside and outside the vessel to remove harmful substances that might have built up over the years.
The government will also survey the vessel to confirm whether it is safe to search for the missing bodies and recollect personal belongings of the victims.
Those preparations will take about a month, before the onset of a three-month-long search and recollection process. Two additional months will also be needed for administrative work.
In addition to search and retrieval operations, the lifting of the Sewol is also expected to help confirm the cause of its sinking.
The Oceans Ministry has said it is unlikely the ship sank in a collision with a military submarine as some have suspected, but said it will still try to end those suspicions by looking into whether the sinking was caused by external impacts or mechanical malfunctions.
The ill-fated ferry set sail at 9 p.m., April 15th 2014. The students of Danwon High School were among a total of 476 passengers headed to Jeju on a field trip from Incheon Port. Journeying through thick fog, the ship capsized the following morning near Jindo.
In April 2015, the government officially announced a plan to salvage the sunken ship and selected a company in Shanghai to lead the effort.
After nearly two years of preparation, in January the ropes to pull the ship up were latched onto the ferry.