Sewol raising begins overnight to avoid media scrutiny

South Korean ferry Sewol which sank in April 2014 with the loss of 304 lives, was part-raised on Wednesday-night/Thursday, a couple of weeks earlier than it had previously been announced the raising would take place.

Salvagers started to bring up the vessel, which has been lying on its side at a depth of 44 metres late Wednesday evening and worked through the night, presumably wanting to avoid excess media coverage of the event.

A Chinese salvage company has fitted 33 beams beneath the hull; 66 hydraulic jacks are slowly raising the ship. The salvage is costing about KRW85bn ($75m).

“The work needs to be done very cautiously,” said Lee Cheol-jo of the Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries. He said the ferry would be raised as high as 13 metres above the sea and then moved onto a semi-submersible. That operation was expected to conclude Friday, after which Sewol would be taken to a nearby port to be fully inspected and explored. Officials hope to find the final nine missing bodies.

The sinking of Sewol remains politically controversial and a major emotional scar in South Korea, with the vast majority of the dead being young students from the same high school. They had been instructed to remain in their cabins even as many crewmembers were escaping the ship.

The captain of the ferry was found guilty of homicide in 2015 and jailed for life. More than a dozen other crew members got shorter sentences.