South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday called to salvage Sewol, the sunken ferry, “as soon as possible” and said that authorities would take appropriate measures to ensure it. The country marked the one-year anniversary of the ferry disaster, which killed 304 people, mostly schoolchildren.
Park had visited the southern island of Jindo, the closest landmass to the accident site, to offer condolences to the relatives on the anniversary. However, the relatives refused to meet her, protesting against the manner in which the accident was handled by the government. A lawyer for the relatives said, according to the Associated Press (AP), that the grieving families were demanding that the ship be salvaged from the sea and that new investigations begin into the incident.
The South Korean president agreed to these demands and the country's lawmakers adopted a resolution on Thursday to get the government to salvage the ferry; 161 of the 165 lawmakers in the National Assembly session voted in favor. However, two voted against the move, while two others abstained from the voting.
"Recently, there was an announcement that it is technically possible to salvage Sewol ferry. I believe that it is now time to earnestly prepare to salvage," Park said, during a speech marking the anniversary, according to CNN. She added that the authorities will complete "necessary procedures swiftly so that the ferry can be salvaged as soon as possible."
The ferry was carrying 476 passengers, including 325 schoolchildren who were on their way to a school trip. A total 295 bodies were recovered from the ferry, while nine passengers were still not unaccounted for when divers called off the search in November.
"My heart still aches when I think of the nine people who are still missing under the cold water, and of their families," Park said, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). The captain of the ferry, Lee Joon-seok, was sentenced to 36 years in prison for gross negligence in November, but was found not guilty of the charge of negligent homicide.
Salvaging the ferry, as demanded by the relatives, is estimated to be a project worth about $110 million, AFP reported.
Lee Keum-hui, 46, who lost his daughter in the accident, said, according to Time magazine: “Some people say it’s time to move on, but how can we do that when our daughter’s body is still out there somewhere?” adding, “We’ve been here for the past year, and our goal is still the same: to find our beloved child.”