South Korea ferry disaster: Salvage operations face month-long delay

Rescue boats sail around the South Korean passenger ship "Sewol".
PHOTO: Reuters

The government said Thursday that the salvage operations of Sewol ferry are expected to conclude by around late July, a month behind schedule.

According to the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, unfavorable work conditions have led to delays at nearly every step. The waters off the coast of Jindo, South Jeolla Province -- where the ill-fated vessel lies -- contain strong, volatile currents and murky water which hindered rescue efforts after the ship's sinking on April 16, 2014.

The Sewol's sinking left 304 dead or missing, most of whom were students of Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, who were traveling to Jejudo Island for a field trip.

"We are not yet sure when the salvage operations will conclude, but we are hoping to complete it before the storm season (in summer)," said a ministry official.

Officials said the time needed for the underwater investigation of the vessel alone was prolonged by nearly four weeks, as divers from the Chinese state-run Shanghai Salvage Co. -- which leads the consortium for raising the sunken ferry -- needed time to adjust to the strong currents.

It also took nearly double the expected time to remove the residual oil, and triple the time to install the netting on the windows and doors of the ferry to ensure that the contents of the ship -- which may include nine bodies that remain unaccounted for -- do not get lost.

The bereaved families of Sewol victims have strongly urged the government to salvage the ship and recover the bodies of those missing.