Asia South Korea leaves door open to Sewol ferry salvage

South Korea leaves door open to Sewol ferry salvage

South Korean President Park Geunhye
South Korean President Park Geunhye

 (AA) – South Korean President Park Geun-hye insisted on Monday that the wreckage of the Sewol ferry may yet be salvaged, nearly a year after the disaster that sparked public fury over safety lapses.

The April 16 tragedy off the southwestern coast claimed more than 300 victims – most of them high school students – and revealed shocking details of incompetence and mismanagement in the ferry industry. Nine passengers are still missing, presumed dead.

Ahead of the first anniversary, relatives of the victims have intensified calls for the ship to be raised from waters near Byeongpung island. Protests have demanded legislative reform to allow an independent investigation to take place without the suspicion of government interference.

Last week, dozens of parents shaved their heads in central Seoul in protest at the government’s compensation plans, which they said should not be prioritized above raising the Sewol, an operation that could cost around 620 billion won ($573 million).

Over the weekend, hundreds of parents marched from their hometown of Ansan to the capital to further press their case.

Of the 476 aboard at the time of the sinking, 295 bodies have been recovered. Just 75 of 325 students travelling on a school trip to the southern island of Jeju survived.

According to her official website, Park told a government meeting on Monday that she “will actively consider salvaging the ship after accepting the opinions of relatives of those still missing and experts.”

The Korea Times reported her as saying: “Technical reviews are underway regarding refloating the hull, while relevant ministries and other government bodies are cooperatively considering the possibility, as well.

“The government will collect opinions from the public as well as experts and the families of the victims on whether to bring the ship to the surface.”

The president’s words may not be enough to quell the storm of protest ahead of next week’s anniversary.

On Tuesday, powers are due to come into force that critics say would allow the government undue influence over the investigation, for example, allowing officials from the Oceans Ministry to take part.

Prosecutions have seen more than 50 people face trial, most notably the Sewol’s captain Lee Jun-seok, who received a 36-year jail sentence. He escaped the sinking vessel while hundreds of passengers were told to stay below deck.

Protesters aim to expose further culpability, following widespread claims of official incompetence, corruption and mismanagement after the disaster.

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