SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea's oceans ministry said Monday that it was ready to start work to salvage a ferry that sank last year, killing more than 300 people, and that the operation would begin soon after it gets formal approval.
The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said in a statement that it would ask the government's safety agency to approve plans to hoist the ship from the seafloor off the country's southwest coast. The Ministry of Public Safety and Security said it would review the request on Wednesday.
The safety agency is widely expected to endorse the plan as President Park Geun-hye promised on Thursday — the anniversary of the April 16, 2014, sinking — to lift the ship.
The oceans ministry statement said it aimed to choose a company to hoist the ship within two months of getting approval and would map out detailed salvaging plans in the following months. Ministry officials said some of the work to lift the ship, such as deploying barges where workers can stay during the salvaging operation, could start in October.
Ministry officials have said the estimated cost of raising the ferry is about $91-137 million and that it's expected to take as long as 1 1/2 years.
A total of 304 people — most of them students from a single high school — died when the ferry Sewol sank. The bodies of nine of the victims haven't been retrieved.
Salvaging the vessel is one of the key demands of bereaved families and their supporters, who also want a more thorough investigation into the sinking. Some conservatives have opposed raising the ferry, a civilian ship, with taxpayers' money.
Authorities have arrested about 140 people, including crew members and ferry company employees, blaming overloading of cargo, improper storage, botched rescue efforts and other negligence for the incident. But critics say higher-level officials haven't been held accountable.
Violence broke out Saturday at a Seoul rally criticizing the government's handling of the ferry disaster, with police using water cannons and pepper spray to disperse protesters. Police said Monday that they had requested warrants to arrest five of the protesters, but that none of the five were relatives of disaster victims.