SEOUL: Grieving relatives threw white chrysanthemums over the side of a boat at the place where the Sewol ferry sunk exactly two years ago, as the country marked the anniversary of the disaster on Saturday.
A total of 304 people died, mostly students, when the Sewol sank off the southwestern island of Jindo, in a tragedy that shocked and enraged the country.
“Son, how are you? I’ve come to see you,” a father shouted from the deck of a coastguard vessel that had brought mourners to the site of the sinking.
“Come back to us now. Your mother is waiting for you”, he said before tossing a flower overboard, in an event that was broadcast live online.
A crowd of some 2,500 mourners took part in a memorial service at Jindo, reading memorial poems and releasing thousands of yellow-colored balloons into the air in remembrance of the victims.
Memorial events also took place in Seoul and in Ansan, where the students studied.
Following the disaster, it emerged it was primarily caused by human error—an illegal redesign, overloaded cargo bay, inexperienced crew and a questionable relationship between operators and state regulators.
Seoul announced last year that it would raise the 6,825-tonne ferry, which had been a key demand of the victims’ families, who cling to hopes that nine bodies still unaccounted for may yet be recovered.
The $72 million project to raise the vessel is being spearheaded by a Chinese company. It 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 safely to the families,” Oceans Minister Kim Young-Suk said at the memorial service at Jindo.
The Sewol lies more than 40 meters (130 feet) beneath the sea’s surface, and officials say lifting the 145-metre-long vessel from the seabed without splitting it into sections first 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, a global consulting firm involved in the salvage project.
Still, he said there was an 80 percent chance the operation would succeed.