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(LEAD) Gov't to conduct 32,000-square-meter-wide search of seabed where Sewol sank

All Headlines 16:22 April 02, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details at bottom)

MOKPO, South Korea, April 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea plans to conduct a massive search at the site of the Sewol ferry accident that occurred three years ago, which claimed more than 300 lives, officials said Sunday.

Shanghai Salvage, the company that recently raised the sunken Sewol Ferry, will conduct a two-month-long, 32,000-square-meter-wide search of the seabed where the ship remained, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said. The aim of the search is to find the remains of those still missing and other clues that can shed better light on the sinking.

In 2015, with the Chinese consortium led by the state-run Shanghai Salvage won the 85.1-billion-won (US$72 million) bid to pull the ferry out of the water intact.

The ministry said the area has been divided up into 40 zones for 50 divers to conduct a detailed search. Authorities said underwater steel fences, three meters high, have been set up around the area where the Sewol sank.

After an initial search, Shanghai Salvage will carry out a second search using sonar. It also plans to bring back the left rear ramp of the Sewol, which was cut off during the salvage process.

The Sewol arrived at Mokpo last week but is still docked on a semisubmersible ship due to time needed to transport it to land. The ministry plans to drill a drainage hole in the left side of the ship to reduce its weight.

Meanwhile, nine bone fragments, along with a passport and other personal belongings, were discovered on the deck of the submersible ship carrying the Sewol early Sunday but on-site inspectors determined the bones were from animals.

The passport was found to be that of Lee Joon-seok, the Sewol's 70-year-old captain who is serving 36 years in prison for negligence and dereliction of duty.

In this file photo, the Sewol ferry, lifted from where it sank some three years ago in the country's southwestern waters, is brought to a port in Mokpo, on March 31, 2017. The ill-fated ship will be put on dry dock, and a search will begin to find the remains of nine people still missing from the sinking on April 16, 2014. (Yonhap)

"For the past three years, we've waited here to return home with our (missing) family. As much as we've endured the pain, we'll have to wait longer," a family member of one the nine missing said.

Last Tuesday, authorities said they discovered several bone fragments that they believed to possibly be from one of the missing, but were later found to be from an animal.

A parliamentary committee responsible for inspecting the salvaged Sewol will convene on Wednesday to discuss the administrative groundwork for its maximum 50-member organization. The committee will work over the next 10 months to help determine the exact cause of the accident.

Meanwhile, South Koreans continued to pay tribute to the hundreds of people killed and nine still missing from the ferry sinking almost three years ago, with people all over the country showing up at Paengmok Harbor, which is near the site of the tragedy, to give their condolences.

odissy@yna.co.kr
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