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Chinese-led consortium starts preliminary work to salvage sunken South Korean ferry

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SEOUL, South Korea — A Chinese-led consortium began preliminary work Wednesday to salvage a South Korean ferry that sank last year, killing more than 300 people, officials said.

South Korea awarded a $73 million contract earlier this month to the consortium led by China's state-owned Shanghai Salvage Co. to raise the ferry Sewol. The company was involved in raising a cruise ship that sank in China's Yangtze River in June, killing more than 400 people.

The consortium has sent a barge and a tug to the area to be used as a base where about 150 divers, engineers and other workers will stay for the salvage project.

A diver worked underwater on Wednesday to examine conditions at the site, South Korea's Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said. Divers plan to do more underwater work such as photographing the ship in the next 10 days or so to help develop a salvage plan, ministry officials said.

Most of the victims were high school students who were on a field trip to a southern resort island. The bodies of 295 people have been recovered but nine others are still missing.

Raising the ship is a key demand by bereaved families, who hope it will help locate the missing bodies and revel more details about the sinking.

South Korean officials said they want the ship to be raised by next July.

The sinking was South Korea's deadliest maritime disaster in decades and caused a rare bout of national soul-searching on public safety. The disaster was blamed on overloaded cargo, improper storage, botched rescue efforts and other negligence.

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