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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. Yonhap via REUTERS

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SEOUL (Reuters) - The remains of what appears to be at least one unrecovered victim of South Korea's sunken Sewol ferry were found near the salvaged vessel on Tuesday, an official said, nearly three years after the disaster that killed 304 people.

The ferry was structurally unsound, overloaded and travelling too fast on a turn when it capsized and sank during a routine voyage off the southwest coast on April 16, 2014. Most of the victims were children on a school excursion.

"Six pieces of remains that were found are 4 cm to 18 cm long," Lee Cheol-jo, an official of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, told a briefing.

The fragments, equivalent to 1.6 inch to 7 inches in length, appeared to have emerged through the vessel's windows, he added.

Lee declined to say how many victims the remains were suspected to have come from, but said DNA tests would be done.

The news comes as bereaved families and officials hope to find the last nine bodies still missing from the disaster, after the ferry was raised last week and loaded onto a semi-submersible vessel for a journey to a nearby port.

Earlier on Tuesday, weeping relatives attended a memorial service for the missing held near the vessel, where Catholic, Protestant pastors and Buddhist monks offered prayers.

"Eun-hwa, let's go home. Mommy will find you quickly. You should hang in there a bit to meet mommy," Lee Kum-hee, whose daughter Cho Eun-hwa is among the missing, said at the service, as she threw yellow roses into the sea in a tribute.

Of those killed, 250 were teenagers from the same high school, many of whom obeyed crew instructions to remain in their cabins even as crew members were escaping the sinking ship.

The botched rescue and toll of children in one of Asia's most technically advanced economies shocked and angered the country, with much of the ire focussing on former President Park Geun-hye and her administration at the time.

The ferry captain was found guilty of homicide in 2015 and jailed for life. More than a dozen other crew members received shorter sentences.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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