South Korea finds presumed remains of ferry disaster victim

The ministry source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said salvage workers had found "human remains suspected to be one of the missing victims" after the vessel was brought to the surface, nearly three years after it went down with the deaths of 304 people.

A close-up photograph of the remains of the Sewol, as seen during a salvage operation off the coast of South Korea's southern island of Jindo on Friday.

South Korea on Tuesday said forensic examination showed bone fragments found near a salvaged ferry that sank in one of its worst disasters three years ago came from an animal and not an unrecovered victim, as an official had said earlier.

The bones were found near a beam beneath the front side of the ferry, which had been loaded onto a heavy lift transport vessel that will carry it to port.

But the ministry corrected its initial statement, declaring: "According to test results by the National Forensic Service, they have been confirmed to be seven animal bone fragments".

The nine victims who have yet to be recovered are four school children, two teachers and a married couple and their child. The wreck has been brought to the surface in one piece due to political pressure from the families of the lost, who want the authorities to examine the hull for new evidence and search the interior for the bodies of nine missing passengers.

The wreck was brought to the surface last week in a complex salvage operation, almost three years after it went down and it is being towed to shore on a huge heavy lift transport vessel.

Early on Tuesday, South Korean officials said bones had come out of a window of a passenger room during work to drain the ship.

The ministry called an emergency press conference at 4:30 announce the discovery, and Vice Minister of Oceans and Fisheries Yoon Hak-bae met with the families of the missing.

In the meantime, however, the operation to transport the ferry to Mokpo New Port may have hit a snag.

Relatives threw into the sea yellow roses, a colour that has become the symbol of their suffering, and watched from afar as crews on the transport vessel continued to empty the ferry of water and fuel.

It is hard tell if the bones came from one person or which part of the body they came from, Lee added.

"Please don't forget there are people inside the dirty, rusty and smelly wreckage". "All we want is to find our family members and go back home", she said.

Once the ferry reaches Mokpo, investigators will spend about a month cleaning the ship and evaluating it for safety.

Cargo overloading and structural renovations were partly blamed by a previous investigation but protesters insist the truth is yet to be fully uncovered.

  • Leroy Wright