Sewol ferry raised from its watery grave in South Korea three years after vessel's sinking killed 300 on board

Nicola Smith

A mother’s wail for her missing child pierced the morning silence in the Korean port of Paengmok on Thursday as the Sewol ferry was raised from its cold watery grave, three years after sinking with the loss of over 300 lives.

Most of the 304 victims of the Sewol ferry disaster on 16 April 2014  were teenage school children from the Danwon High School in Ansan, near the capital, Seoul. Many perished after being told to wait in their cabins instead of evacuating. Nine bodies were never found.

Relatives of missing passengers of the sunken Sewol ferry on a boat, front, watch its salvage operation in waters off Jindo, South Korea Credit: Kyodo News 

“I really miss you, my son. I hope he gets out of the freezing water and meets me here,” the mother of Yang Seung-jin, a teacher, told the Korean Herald as she wept on the island of Jindo, near where the ship went down.

“How handsome my son is! He was a good son, father, husband and teacher. Who would have known that he would die just like this?” she asked.

Anxious families gathered on a boat to oversee the raising of the ship, while others watched from the top of a hill onshore.

The 145 metre-long ferry, trapped 40m underwater for 1073 days, began to break the surface at about 4am, seven hours after a Chinese consortium began to use two salvage barges to raise it in a $72 million operation.

Some onlookers broke down as the corroded Sewol emerged

This aerial image shows part of the damaged Sewol ferry between two barges after being raised during a salvage operation at sea off the south west South Korean island of Jindo Credit: AFP 

“I shouted when I saw the ferry revealed above the water, thinking that my child can finally return home,” Lee Keum-hee, the mother of missing student victim, Cho Eun-hwa, told reporters on the boat.

“But soon after the ferry began to be lifted, I became devastated that my daughter has been left in such a filthy place.”

South Korean ferry disaster – in pictures

If the lift is fully successful, the ferry will be moved onto a semisubmersible ship and should arrive at the Mokpo Port in the south of the Korean peninsula in two weeks time. When the ferry is docked, officials hope to find the reason why it sank and recover the bodies of the missing.

The country’s worst maritime disaster traumatised the nation, and galvanised mass protests late last year demanding the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.

In the eyes of many of her citizens, the president, who was finally impeached earlier this month, mishandled the disaster. Her unexplained disappearance for seven hours while the tragedy unfolded ultimately contributed to her downfall.

“If she had been a true leader, she would have postponed everything and gone there,” Shin Su-kwong, who lost her teenage daughter, Kim Su-kyong, told The Telegraph.

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