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South Korea testing salvage of Sewol disaster ferry

Salvage operators have begun testing whether they can raise the sunken Sewol ferry in South Korea. Raising the vessel is a key demand of families of victims who died when the ferry sank nearly three years ago.

Workers in South Korea on Wednesday began tests to determine whether they can begin salvage operations to raise a 6,800-ton ferry that sank in 2014, killing more than 300 people in the country's worst-ever maritime disaster.

The operation to raise the Sewol ferry was originally scheduled for last year, but adverse weather conditions have caused it to be postponed several times.

For the tests, two barges have been positioned on either side of the ferry, which is lying in about 40 meters (130 feet) of water. Workers on the barges have been slipping cables beneath the sunken vessel to raise it toward the surface, and air bags have been inserted.

Südkorea Schiffskatastrophe Sewol (picture-alliance/dpa/Yonhap)

The full salvage operation is expected to last three days

Once the top part of the ferry has cleared the surface - a process expected to take 10 hours once the operation is truly underway - the ship will be loaded onto a semi-submersible that will transport it to a mainland port. The full lift, carried out by a Chinese consortium, is expected to take three days, and will go ahead if Wednesday's tests succeed and weather forecasts are favorable.

Tragic school trip

It is thought that nine bodies from among the 304 victims - most of them teenagers on a high school trip - may still be inside the Sewol, and families have made raising the vessel intact one of their key demands.

The disaster on April 16, 2014, unleashed an outpouring of national grief and dealt a crippling blow to now ousted President Park Geun-hye, whose government was accused of botching the rescue job. The allegation that she was out of contact for several hours on the day of the sinking was written into an impeachment bill that lawmakers passed against Park in December, along with broader corruption suspicions that ultimately led to her being removed from office this month.

The captain of the ferry, who survived along with 171 others, is now serving a life sentence on charges of committing homicide through "willful negligence," because he fled the ship without issuing an evacuation order.

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tj/se (AP, AFP)

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