South Korea to test raising of sunken ferry
Salvage operators were to begin a test lift of South Korea's Sewol ferry Wednesday, officials said, nearly three years after it sank killing 304 people and dealing a crippling blow to now ousted president Park Geun-Hye.
Emotional parents of victims -- the vast majority of the dead in the country's worst-ever maritime disaster were schoolchildren -- pleaded for prayers for a successful recovery.
The vessel lies more than 40 metres (130 feet) below the waves off southwestern South Korea and the operation, originally scheduled for last year, has been pushed back several times because of adverse weather conditions.
It is thought that nine bodies still unaccounted for may be trapped inside the sunken ship, and raising the ferry intact has been a key demand of the victims' families.
"I am a mother who just really misses her daughter. Please pray for us so we can go home with Eun-Hwa," said Lee Keum-Hui, one of a handful of relatives who have been living in makeshift homes at Paengmok, the closest port to the wreck, since the accident.
"We will be grateful if you pray with us so that the last remaining victims can return to their families," she said, breaking down.
Other bereaved family members have been maintaining a vigil at a camp on a hilltop on Donggeochado, the nearest island to the site, just 1.5 kilometres away.
Yellow ribbons -- a symbol for the victims of the deadly disaster -- hang on nearby trees, their colour faded by the course of time.
In a tense atmosphere, one victim's father nervously watched through binoculars, trying to get a glimpse of the operation.
"We will not clear the camp even when the Sewol is raised," he said, declining to be named. "You never know what you will find beneath the sunken ferry."
Two enormous barges have been positioned on either side of the 6,825-tonne ship and air bags inserted for the salvage effort, which is being led by a Chinese consortium.
Beams have been installed by digging through the sea bed underneath the wreck, which is lying on its side, and cables attached to bring it painstakingly towards the surface.
Once two-thirds of it is exposed, a semi-submersible will be positioned underneath to raise it out of the water and transport it to Mokpo, a port on the mainland, to carry out investigations and search for the missing.