South Korea’s government approved a plan on Wednesday to salvage a ferry that sank in April last year, killing over 300 people in one of the country’s worst disasters. The families of the victims have long demanded that the Sewol ferry be raised in hopes of recovering the bodies of nine missing passengers and finding out more about the cause of the accident.
Last week, at the one-year anniversary of the disaster, President Park Geun-hye called to salvage the sunken ferry "as soon as possible." However, efforts to raise the ship have been opposed by critics who question whether taxpayer money would be well spent on raising the ship. So far, 295 bodies have been recovered in rescue efforts. The ferry was carrying 476 passengers at the time of sinking.
Divers attempting to recover bodies of victims faced difficult conditions, with two dead and about 80 hospitalized over the course of the rescue efforts. The government formally ended the search for more victims in November.
Public Safety and Security Minister Park In-yong told a news conference Wednesday that the government had approved a request from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries to begin the process of lifting the ship off the seafloor, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The operation is expected to cost between $91 million and $137 million, and is set to take up to 18 months, the AP reported, citing the oceans ministry. Government officials reportedly said they will, within two months, select a company to lift the Sewol and then devise detailed plans in the coming months. Oceans Minister Yoo Ki-june said at the news conference that some preliminary salvage work is expected to start as soon as September, the AP reported.
The backlash over the sinking has resulted in widespread anger against the government, prompting Prime Minister Chung Hong-won to offer his resignation last year over the handling of the incident. "As I saw grieving families suffering with the pain of losing their loved ones and the sadness and resentment of the public, I thought I should take all responsibility as prime minister," Chung said at the time, giving his reason for the resignation, the AP reported. "There have been so many varieties of irregularities that have continued in every corner of our society and practices that have gone wrong. I hope these deep-rooted evils get corrected this time and this kind of accident never happens again."
A protest held in Seoul after the first anniversary of the disaster reportedly turned violent on Saturday, as riot police used water cannons to disperse thousands of protesters who burned the country’s flag and clashed with authorities.