South Korea's Sewol ferry being raised from seabed

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Salvage operators have raised South Korea's sunken Sewol ferry, almost three years after the ship sank, killing more than 300 people and dealing a crippling blow to now-ousted president Park Geun-Hye.

A relative of a missing passenger from the sunken ferry Sewol watches as the vessel is raised to the surface.

Divers spent months placing 33 lifting beams underneath the ferry and tying cables to both ends.

"The ferry shifted a little as it was being pulled up and is pulling on some wires", said Lee Cheol-jo, head of the Sewol salvaging committee of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, in a press conference at the Jindo County Office.

By yesterday morning, its mud-covered, rusting hull broke through the surface, and workers began fastening the ferry to the barges. Nearly all the dead were schoolchildren and it is thought that nine bodies still unaccounted for may be trapped inside the sunken ship. "Please pray for us so we can go home with Eun-Hwa", said Lee Keum-Hui, one of a handful of relatives who have been living in makeshift homes at Paengmok, the closest port to the wreck, since the accident.

The process is slow, not just because of the weight of the ship - estimated to have gone up to 8,500 tonnes with the silt piled up inside - but due to constant monitoring and adjustments needed to keep it level.

Efforts to raise the 145-meter-long, 6,825-ton ship that had been lying about 40 meters under water began Wednesday, some three years after it capsized off the southwest coast of the peninsula near the island of Jindo, while en route to the resort island of Jeju on April 16, 2014.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the part of the ferry visible above water measured some 8.5 meters high.

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"The ferry had been underwater for more than 1,000 days, but given that there have been no man-made damages to the ship, I think it possible that the ship will be able to tell tales of why it had capsized", said Park Chi-mo, professor at Ulsan University. All this time my poor child was in that cold, dirty place.

That makes it impossible to move the ferry into the cargo bay of a semi-submersible structure that will transport it to dry dock.

The captain of the ferry was arrested, tried, and found guilty of murder in 2015 and jailed for life.

Park was forced to defend herself against accusations that she was out of contact for several hours on the day of the sinking.

Family members of the victims watched the operation overnight from a government ship.

Negligence over the sinking was one of the grounds for which parliament impeached Park in December, although the constitutional court ruled that it was not an impeachable offence when it upheld her dismissal on other charges earlier this month.

She is now under criminal investigation over suspicions that she conspired with a confidante to extort money and favours from companies and allow the friend to secretly interfere with state affairs.

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