The wreck of the ferry Sewol has safely arrived at the port of Mokpo, South Korea, several days ahead of schedule and several weeks before the third anniversary of her sinking.
The vessel was hoisted from the seabed off Jindo island last week and placed on a semisubmersible heavy lift ship, the Dockwise White Marlin. After several days of securing the vessel and waiting for the right weather conditions, the Marlin got underway with an escort of five Coast Guard vessels. Wave heights were less than three feet, and she encountered no difficulties on the six-hour journey.
In the next phase of the salvage operation, the Sewol will be unlashed, then lifted up by more than 450 centipede-like modular transporters and carried onto a dry dock. The move is expected to occur next week during neap tide, when the salvors expect conditions to be most favorable for the sensitive operation.
Once the vessel has been placed in a drydock and "sterilized," authorities said, an investigation committee will begin a thorough search for evidence and for the bodies of nine missing victims. Among dozens of others involved in the search, the investigative committee has brought in an archaeologist, Professor Park Sun-ju, who will help the team to recover any human remains with minimum damage. The inspection is set to begin on April 10.
President Park Geun-hye arrested
The sinking of the Sewol was a national tragedy, and it has been a major flash point in Korean politics for the past three years. The alleged mishandling of the response was one of several factors that led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, who was formally removed from office on March 10.
The Sewol's arrival at Mokpo Friday was overshadowed by the news of former President Park's arrest. Prosecutors have not yet indicted Park, but they asked a court in Seoul to detain her to prevent her from fleeing or destroying evidence. She faces charges related to corruption, bribery, abuse of authority and coercion in connection with an influence-peddling scandal; if she is convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison. Park has consistently denied the allegations.
The New York Times reports that Park's bodyguards departed when her motorcade reached the jail's gates, taking with them the last vestige of her former status. She will be provided with a small cell, a cot on the floor and 45 minutes of outdoor exercise per day – a stark come-down from her quarters in the palatial Blue House.
Park joins a number of high-profile associates at the same detention center, including Choi Soon-sil, a long-time friend and confidant, who was arrested on related charges in October. The acting head of mega-conglomerate Samsung Group, Lee Jae-yong, is also on site; he was indicted March 1 on charges that he provided kickbacks to Choi (and thereby to Park). Lee denies the charges.