On Tuesday, three years and two days after the ferry Sewol went down, salvage workers in Mokpo finally began the process of searching for nine missing victims within the vessel's wrecked hull.
Now that the wreck is on shore and safety checks are complete, workers with Korea Salvage have begun examining the ferry's fourth deck, the level where most of the victims were trapped. Salvors have rigged access towers, safety nets and ventilation systems for a months-long search campaign, and they have cut nine access holes into the compartment to allow the search party to safely enter and exit. The salvors intend to work carefully to excavate the silt-filled port side of the interior, using trowels to sift through the mud to avoid any damage to human remains.
“Specific plans may change in the future, but we are constantly coordinating opinions between bereaved families and special investigation committee to finish the search process in three months,” said Lee Cheol-jo, the head of the salvage effort, speaking to Yonhap. He cautioned that the work may take longer if complications arise during the search, and he stressed that the team's first priority is to preserve the wreck and any new evidence it might yield into the cause of the sinking.
The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries is maintaining a detailed daily tally of search activities and results, including hours within the hull, quantities of sediment removed and personal effects recovered. As of April 18, search teams had found 128 personal items and 37 pieces of animal bone.
A team of 30 divers continues the search at the wreck site, which was enclosed with fencing to prevent human remains or personal effects from escaping during the lifting process.
The Sewol salvage involved the deepest lift of a complete vessel on record. The project was held up for months by the unpredictable currents and high turbidity at the bottom, which made diving operations challenging. These difficulties were also costly: Shanghai's fixed-price bid was for $75 million, but it ended up incurring expenses of $245 million due to delays and complications. The firm has asked the Korean government for additional compensation, and it is expected that the two sides will renegotiate the price.