The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries hopes to complete the salvage of the sunken ferry Sewol in early April, a spokesman said Tuesday.
The ferry sank on April 16, 2014 in one of the worst disasters in modern Korean history, taking more than 300 passengers, most of them high school students, down with her into waters off Jindo, South Jeolla Province.
The hull is to be hauled to port in mid- or late April. Two jack-up barges are already on standby to lift the hull and a semi-submersible is on its way.
"We're going to try to lift its hull up during a neap tide that's forecast between April 4 and 7," a ministry official said.
The actual salvage work will depend on the weather. The ferry lies 40 m beneath the Maenggol Channel, which has one of the most rapid and treacherous currents in the country. If the current is strong or waves over 2 m high, the operation may be too dangerous.
Once the ferry is brought to the surface, it will take about 10 days to haul it to port.
The timing is awkward since the lifting of the ferry is highly politically charged, reminding many of the crass incompetence that led to the doomed youngsters patiently waiting in the cabin while the captain was carried off on a rescue boat.
Any leadership from those responsible could have saved lives, but then-President Park Geun-hye's unexplained seven-hour absence while the ship sank has become symbolic of the deadly shambles. If the ferry is lifted around the time of the May presidential election, it could deal another blow to conservative candidates.
But the ministry said that cannot be a consideration. "We'll start lifting it as soon as we finish preparations, regardless of the presidential election schedule," the official said. "We'll do our best to lift the ferry up as soon as possible. But there's a possibility that we will have to put it off until the next neap tide if the weather isn't good."
The mother of a victim watches the sea near the scene of the April 16 ferry disaster at a port in Jindo, South Jeolla Province on March 10. /Yonhap