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SEOUL, South Korea – The latest on the South Korean efforts to raise a sunken ferry (all times local):
South Korea's acting head of state has urged government officials to do their best to ensure a successful job salvaging the Sewol ferry.
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn in meeting with Cabinet ministers on Thursday also called for the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and other agencies to plan a thorough and quick investigation into the ship once it reaches a port.
The bodies of 295 passengers were recovered after the sinking on April 16, 2014, but nine are still missing. Relatives are hoping those remains will be found inside the ferry.
An investigation committee will also be formed to search for clues that could further explain the cause of the sinking, which has been blamed on overloaded cargo, improper storage and other negligence.
Hwang has been the government caretaker since South Korean lawmakers passed an impeachment motion against former President Park Geun-hye in December over a corruption scandal. The country's Constitutional Court formally removed Park from office earlier this month, triggering a presidential by-election that was set for May 9.
A South Korean group representing the families of ferry disaster victims has issued a statement thanking salvaging crews for lifting the 6,800-ton Sewol from the waters, nearly three years after it sank off the country's southwestern coast in an accident that killed 304 passengers.
The group called for the government to come up with more detailed plans to reduce damage to the wreckage during the salvage operation to preserve the remains of the missing passengers that might be inside.
The group demanded that it be part of a committee that will further investigate the cause of the sinking, which was blamed on overloaded cargo, improper storage and other negligence.
The bodies of 295 passengers were recovered after the sinking, but nine are still missing. Relatives are hoping that those remains will be found inside the ferry.
A South Korean government official says salvage crews will need until the late afternoon or evening Thursday to raise a sunken ferry to a point where they could start the process of loading it onto a vessel that will carry it to a mainland port.
Lee Cheoljo, an official from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, said that workers have temporarily stopped raising the 6,800-ton Sewol after it began rubbing against pulleys and other equipment on the two barges that are raising it with cables. Lee said workers are conducting balancing operations that could take several hours.
Workers had hoped to finish raising the ferry by morning. Lee said the ferry has so far been lifted 24 meters (79 feet) from the seafloor, but needs to be elevated 11 meters (36 feet) further so its upper side reaches about 13 meters (42 feet) above the surface. Salvage crews will then begin loading the ferry onto a semi-submersible, heavy-lift vessel that will carry it to a port.