Sewol finally brought ashore

The ferry is shown here safely loaded on board 'White Marlin' (Daily Mail) The ferry is shown here safely loaded on board 'White Marlin' (Daily Mail)

The tragedy of the sinking of the South Korean ferry ‘Sewol’ has moved a step closer to conclusion following raising of the wreck and transporting back to shore.

Marine salvage is generally a tough, commercial world, companies providing a much-needed service clearing up the aftermath of maritime accidents. When ships come to grief those involved and caught up in the drama will hopefully emerge unscathed. Sadly, not every story ends this way of course and it becomes part of the salvor’s humanitarian duty to assist for instance in the recovery of bodies from sunken vessels.

It is a sensitive role which salvors accept but one perhaps easily overlooked when considering the commercial nature of their task. Shanghai Salvage and Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries faced such a situation with the wreck of the Sewol.

Three hundred and four people perished when the ferry sank off Jindo Island in April 2014, 250 of those lost were high school students and the remains of nine of the victims were never recovered. Raising the wreck in one piece to allow a search of the interior was a requirement and that part of the operation is now possible with the vessel’s return to port.

Sewol sank in 44m of water and progress with raising the tragic vessel has been a long drawn out process given the sensitivity, complicated by technical problems and challenging conditions which claimed the life of a diver in the initial SAR response.

The salvage was a complex operation and involved placing 33 beams beneath the vessel’s hull and the lifting ability of 66 hydraulic strand jacks mounted on two barges to bring it to the surface. The vessel had to be partially lifted twice at the bow and stern to allow beams to be fitted.

Once the ferry was partly clear of the water a vehicle loading ramp on the lower side had to be cut free as it would have complicated the next phase involving transfer to Dockwise’s semi-submersible heavylift ship White Marlin, engaged to transport the vessel to shore.

Working within a tight timeline due to strong currents, transfer to the White Marlin was completed successfully, the wreck being drained of water after the lifting barges were removed. Pollution from internal tanks was unavoidable and oil spill recovery services were on hand to deal with the spillages.

White Marlin later docked safely at Mkopo, South Korea allowing the wreck of the Sewol to be transferred shoreside for search teams to continue their grim task. There are reports that the wreck will be preserved as a memorial to those lost and thanks to the skill and tenacity of the professional salvors, the eventual conclusion of this sad episode is now hopefully a step closer.

By Peter Barker

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