South Korea's Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries announced early today that it had found bones on the deck of the heavy lift ship that is bearing the wreck of the Sewol back to port. The remains were found near shoes and other belongings, and were initially reported as human in origin. However, later in the day, a ministry official said that they were actually from an animal, and that investigators had wrongly assumed their source.
304 people died when the Sewol went down, the majority of them high school students, and the sinking remains a sensitive subject in Korean politics and public life. The wreck has been brought to the surface in one piece due to political pressure from the families of the lost, who want the authorities to examine the hull for new evidence and search the interior for the bodies of nine missing passengers.
Families of the missing reacted angrily on Tuesday when they heard that the remains of their loved ones may have escaped through holes in the hull, and they called on the government to immediately search the bottom for anything that may have fallen out during lifting.
In preparing the salvage effort, workers went to great lengths to minimize the risk that any remains were lost, and they installed a complex system of support beams for the deepest lift of a complete wreck ever attempted. The conventional alternatives – leaving the wreckage in place or chain-cutting it into sections – were not acceptable for the purpose of recovering the nine missing bodies.
In response to public demand, Korea's National Assembly has appointed an eight-member special committee to reopen an investigation of the Sewol's sinking. The panel has a 10-month mandate to examine the facts and to hold responsible parties accountable. Many of those closest to the accident have already been punished: the Sewol's captain was convicted and sentenced to life in prison; 14 other crewmembers received up to 12 years in jail; the president of the vessel's operator and four other company executives were sentenced to three to seven years; and the president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, was impeached and removed from office, due in part to alleged mishandling of the accident response.