Two years after ferry tragedy, relatives mourn

Grieving relatives Saturday threw white chrysanthemums into the sea at the spot where the Sewol ferry sank, as South Korea marked the second anniversary of the disaster which killed 304.

Most of the victims were schoolchildren when the ship sank off the southwestern island of Jindo, in a tragedy caused by human error that shocked and enraged the country.

Salvage crews are now preparing for the challenging task of raising the 6,825-tonne ferry - a key demand of victims' families, who cling to hope that nine bodies still unaccounted for may yet be recovered.

"Son, how are you? I've come to see you," a father shouted from the deck of a Coast Guard vessel that brought mourners to the scene.

"Come back to us now. Your mother is waiting for you," he said before tossing a flower overboard.

A crowd of some 2,500 mourners took part in a service on Jindo, reading memorial poems and releasing thousands of yellow balloons.

Memorial events also took place in Seoul and in the city of Ansan, where the students had gone to school.

Mourners lined up to lay flowers in front of hundreds of portraits of victims on an altar set up beside a street in central Seoul. Online websites were full of postings mourning the dead.

The disaster was mainly due to human error - an illegal redesign of the ship, an overloaded cargo bay, inexperienced crew and a questionable relationship between the ship operators and state regulators.

Captain Lee Jun-seok was sentenced to life in prison for "murder through willful negligence" and sentences ranging from two to 12 years were imposed on 14 other crew members.

The US$72 million salvage project being spearheaded by a Chinese company is expected to begin next month and could be finished by late July.

"The government will do its best to salvage the ship and bring back the nine missing bodies to the families," Oceans Minister Kim Young-suk said at the memorial service at Jindo.

'A world first'

The Sewol lies more than 40 meters (130 feet) beneath the surface, and officials say lifting the 145-meter-long vessel from the seabed without causing it to break up will be the main challenge.

"Unfortunately, nothing can be guaranteed and we can only do the very best we can do to ensure that the risk is minimized," said Simon Burthem, a naval architect at TMC Marine, a global consulting firm involved in the salvage project.

Still, he said, there was an 80 percent chance the operation would succeed.

Source: China Post

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