SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea formally approved a plan on Wednesday to salvage a ferry that sank last year, killing 304 people in one of the country's deadliest disasters in decades.
Raising the Sewol is one of the demands of bereaved families, who hope to discover more details about the cause of the sinking and find the bodies of nine passengers still missing. Some critics have opposed using taxpayers' money to raise the civilian ship and are skeptical that it would provide new information or locate the missing.
The bodies of 295 people have been recovered. Most of the victims were high school students on a trip to a southern resort island.
Public Safety and Security Minister Park In-yong told a news conference that the government has endorsed a request by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries to hoist the ship off the country's southwest coast.
The endorsement was widely expected since President Park Geun-hye promised last week at a ceremony marking the disaster's anniversary to try to salvage the ship and retrieve the missing bodies.
A year after the sinking, there is lingering public anger over the government's handling of the disaster, with the start of an investigation by a special committee still stalled over its membership. Violence erupted Saturday at a rally in Seoul led by bereaved families and their supporters, leaving dozens of people injured.
Relatives of the victims say government officials have been reluctant to start work on lifting the ship because of the high cost, estimated at $91 million to $137 million.
Oceans ministry officials said the government will select a company to lift the Sewol within two months and then formulate a detailed salvaging plan. Oceans Minister Yoo Ki-june said some work, such as removing oil from the sunken ship and deploying barges near the site, is expected to start as early as September.
Authorities have arrested about 140 people since the sinking, including crew members and ferry company employees, and say the disaster occurred because of overloading of cargo, improper storage, botched rescue efforts and other negligence. Critics say higher-level officials haven't been held accountable.