SEOUL, South Korea – South Korean workers on Wednesday began the difficult process of raising a 6,800-ton ferry that sank in 2014, killing more than 300 people and triggering a public uproar that contributed to the recent ouster of Park Geun-hye as president.
The salvaging operation began after hours of preparations and tests, according to an official from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries who didn't want to be identified because of office rules.
Workers on two barges have slipped 66 cables beneath the Sewol ferry, which had been lying on its left side in about 40 meters (130 feet) of water. The cables are connected to a frame of metal beams divers have spent months putting in place.
The ministry believes that workers will be able to lift the upper side of the ferry about 13 meters (42 feet) above the surface by Thursday morning if water and weather conditions remain stable.
Workers will then begin loading it onto a semi-submersible, heavy-lift vessel that will carry it to a mainland port. That process, including emptying the ferry of water and fuel, is expected to take days.
Workers also conducted tests to raise the ferry on Sunday, but delayed the operation after some cables became tangled.
The bodies of 295 passengers -- most of whom were students on a high school trip -- were recovered after the sinking on April 16, 2014, but nine are still missing. Relatives are hoping that those remains will be found inside the ferry.
The ferry disaster touched off an outpouring of national grief and triggered anger over what was seen as a botched rescue job by the government.
The ferry's captain survived and is serving a life sentence after a court found him guilty of committing homicide through "willful negligence" because he fled the ship without issuing an evacuation order.
Park was forced to defend herself against accusations that she was out of contact for several hours on the day of the sinking. The allegations were included in an impeachment bill lawmakers passed against Park in December, amid broader corruption suspicions.
Park was formally removed from office by the Constitutional Court earlier this month. She is now under criminal investigation over suspicions that she conspired with a confidante to extort money and favors from companies and allow the friend to secretly interfere with state affairs.
South Korea in 2015 agreed to an 85.1 billion won ($76 million) deal with a consortium led by China's state-run Shanghai Salvage Co. to raise the Sewol.
The government initially planned to salvage the ferry by the end of last year, but the process was delayed due to strong currents and unfavorable weather conditions.