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Remains found not of Sewol victims

Pieces of bones found during the South Korean government‘s ongoing salvage operation of the sunken Sewol ferry turned out to be animal bones, authorities said late Tuesday.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries had previously said that it had found human bones, presumably remains of a victim of the 2014 ferry disaster that left more than 300 passengers dead.

The salvage team found the seven pieces of bones at 11:25 a.m. on the deck of a semisubmersible ship on which Sewol currently sits, after having been lifted out of the water last week in preparation to move it to Mokpo Port, the ministry had said.

“They turned out to be animal bones,” an official of the ministry told reporters. 

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

Sewol, a 6,800-ton passenger ferry, was carrying 476 passengers -- mostly high school students on a field trip -- when it ran aground and sank off the southwestern island on April 16, 2014. Just 172 passengers were rescued. Nine bodies are still unaccounted for.

Once the ferry is brought to shore, authorities plan to search its interior hoping to recover the nine missing bodies and discover the causes of the sinking of the ferry.

The National Assembly on Tuesday passed a bill to establish a special committee to oversee the search and reinvestigate of the maritime disaster.

Questions over what caused the sinking and why the authorities failed to rescue so many of the passengers remain unanswered for many South Koreans, despite the government’s official investigation.

The government’s botched rescue operation was part of the reason former President Park Geun-hye was impeached by the National Assembly, although the Constitutional Court in its decision to finalize her removal did not see it as an impeachable charge.

In 2014, state prosecutors had concluded that a combination of overloaded freight, a displacement of cargo and an erroneous sharp turn by unskilled helmsmen was the cause of the disaster. The following year, the Supreme Court acquitted the helmsmen, dismissing the prosecution’s claim as lacking proof. It sentenced the ship’s captain to life in prison for abandoning the ship, which was listing at that time, without rescuing passengers.

On Tuesday, the Assembly also named five members to a committee who will work with three others appointed earlier at the recommendation of an association of victims’ families.

They included a lawyer and a former researcher and professor of the Korea Institute of Maritime and Fisheries Technology, according to parliamentary officials.

The eight-member committee will work over the next 10 months to oversee the reinvestigation, help determine the exact cause of the accident and bring those responsible to justice, officials said.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com) and Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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