SEOUL, March 23 (Xinhua) -- The sunken South Korean passenger ferry Sewol was lifted 13 meters above the sea on Friday morning and will be transported to a port to find the cause of the country's worst maritime disaster.
According to the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, the ill-fated vessel was brought the targeted 13 meters above the surface of the water at about 11:10 a.m. local time (0210 GMT).
The salvaging operation, which started late Wednesday, was supposed to be done Thursday morning, but it was delayed for technical problems.
The salvaged ship would be transported to a semi-submersible barge, some 3 km southeast of the site. The barge will carry the wreckage to a port in Mokpo, about 90 km away from the site.
The wreckage is forecast to make it to the port as early as April 4.
The 6,825-ton ferry Sewol capsized and sank in waters off Jindo Island, South Jeolla province on April 16, 2014. It claimed the lives of 304 people, mostly high school students on a school trip.
Among 476 passengers on board, only 172 were rescued. Nine bodies are still unaccounted for.
If the ship is safely carried to the Mokpo port, search operations for the nine bodies will be conducted inside the wreckage filled with sand and stones as well as near the site where the ship sank. Nets have been installed to ban the possible loss of the missing bodies.
Inspection will be carried out to find the clear cause of the sinking. At the time, the government had cited various reasons, including the overloading and an insufficient supervision, but numerous doubts have been raised about the findings announced by the Park Geun-hye administration.
Just hours after the constitutional court's decision on March 10 to permanently remove President Park from office, the oceans ministry announced a plan to bring the Sewol ferry to the ground. Two weeks later, the ship was lifted after having lain some 40 meters underneath the sea surface for nearly three years.
Suspicions were raised that the government had intentionally delayed the salvaging operation for three years.
The bereaved families have claimed an insufficient investigation into the accident and an intentional concealment by the Park government of the truth behind the disaster.
Park's whereabouts for the first seven hours right after the maritime tragedy occurred in 2014 was one of the key subjects of an investigation by special prosecutors, who had probed the corruption scandal embroiling Park for 70 days through the end of February, but they found little clues to it.