South Korea says Sewol ferry remains are animal bones

Remains of a missing victim of the Sewol ferry sinking were found during the ongoing operation to prepare the stricken ship for transport to port, almost three years after the tragedy took place, government officials said Tuesday.

The Sewol sank on April 16, 2014, killing 304 people - mostly teens on a school trip.

However, forensic tests on the fragments quickly confirmed that they came from an animal.

Six fragments of bone, measuring from 4 to 18 centimetres, were recovered on the deck, according to Lee Cheol-Jo, a senior official in charge of the salvage operation.

A total of 304 people died in the disaster.

Family members of victims onboard the sunken ferry Sewol and religious people look on during a memorial ceremony at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 28, 2017. Footwear and other belongings were also found.

Kang Won-jin, a ministry spokesman, said officials who gave the earlier press conference assumed the bones belonged to a human at the time. Relatives had expressed concern that remains of the missing victims could slip out through the holes and get lost. The ferry, which is now loaded on top of a semi-submersible ship, was due to leave for Mokpo on Thursday, but news of the discovery of the remains had raised speculation the schedule could be pushed back.

Relatives of the missing hope their remains will be found inside the ferry.

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

Doing so had been a key demand of the families of the nine missing victims - four schoolchildren, two teachers, and a married couple and their child who were moving to Jeju, the ship's destination, to set up a new life.

Earlier Tuesday, relatives of the missing passengers participated in an emotional memorial service on a boat near the transport vessel, with representatives of Catholic and Protestant churches and Buddhists delivering prayers for the recovery of the missing. "Please don't forget there are people inside the dirty, rusty and smelly wreckage".

Once the ferry reaches Mokpo, investigators will spend about a month cleaning the ship and evaluating it for safety. "All we want is to find our family members and go back home", she said. Investigations concluded the disaster was largely man-made - the cumulative result of an illegal redesign of the ship, an overloaded cargo bay, inexperienced crew and a questionable relationship between the ship operators and state regulators.

  • Leroy Wright