By Heekyong Yang
SEOUL (Reuters) - Salvage experts in South Korea could on Wednesday begin raising a ferry that sank nearly three years ago, killing more than 300 people, most of them children on a school trip, finally meeting the demands of mourning families.
The ferry, the Sewol, was structurally unsound, overloaded and travelling too fast on a turn when it capsized and sank during a routine voyage on April 16, 2014. It lies at a depth of 44 metres (144 feet), off the southwestern island of Jindo.
Of those killed, 250 were teenagers on a school trip, many of whom obeyed crew instructions to remain in their cabins even as crew members were escaping the sinking vessel.
Bereaved families have been calling for the ship to be raised and for a more thorough investigation into the disaster. Officials also hope to find the last nine missing bodies.
The disaster was a blot on former President Park Geun-hye's record in office that she was never able to clear. Park was accused of failing to take decisive action after news broke that the ferry was in trouble.
She denied that, but she never fully explained what she was doing during the seven hours between the first news reports and her first television appearance that day.
Her response to the disaster was again raised in recent months after she came under suspicion in the course of an investigation into a corruption scandal that led to her dismissal from office on March 10.
A Chinese salvage company has fitted 33 beams beneath the hull, which will be raised by 66 hydraulic jacks.
The lifting system will be tested on Wednesday, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said in a statement, and if all goes to plan, the salvagers might just go ahead and bring the ship up.
"If the test operation goes well today, we will initiate the actual operation to refloat the Sewol," a ministry official said.
"If the actual operation is initiated, it'll take about three days to refloat the ferry. But we're not yet sure how the test run will go," said the official, who declined to be identified.
The salvage is costing about 85 billion won (60 million pounds), another ministry official said this week.
(Editing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Michael Perry)