Fate of missing sailors still unclear
But South Korea could not confirm this afternoon the fate of 46 sailors who have been missing since a Navy patrol ship sank.
Fifty-eight sailors have been rescued.
The South’s Navy stepped up efforts to find the missing sailors but no results were immediately available, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The 1,200-ton patrol combat corvette Cheonan sank last night at 9:45 p.m. in the waters near the Baeknyeong Island apparently after an
explosion blew a hole in its stern while the vessel was on a patrol mission.
The cause of the explosion is as yet unknown. A total of 104 crew members were on board at the time of the incident.
“Among rescued sailors, 13 have been hospitalized for injuries, with two of them suffering cerebral hemorrhages,” Col. Park Sung-woo, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a press briefing. “But their conditions are not life-threatening. Our military will keep searching for missing sailors and we will determine the exact reason for the sinking after the ship is brought to the surface and examined.”
A South Korean Navy officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said that it is not likely that the vessel sank after an internal explosion.
The officer did not rule out the possibility of an attack by the North.
Meanwhile, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak ordered a “quick and thorough” investigation today into what caused the warship to sink, keeping in mind “all possibilities.” He made his comments during an emergency meeting with security-related Cabinet ministers, the Blue House said.
The presidential office also said that there has been no “special move” by North Korea so far despite initial media reports that the communist neighbor might be responsible for the incident near the disputed western sea border between the two Koreas.
“Lee ordered the military to find the truth behind the sinking quickly and thoroughly and said the government should leave open all
possibilities,” presidential spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye quoted Lee as saying.
The corvette, with a miximun speed of 32 knots (35.7 miles per hour), is 88 meters (288 feet) long and 10 meters wide. It is capable of carrying around 100 crew members.
The vessel is armed with anti-submarine missiles, depth charges and torpedoes as well as 76, 40 and 30 millimeter cannons.
The Navy operates 30 ships of the same class.
By Lee Min-yong [firstname.lastname@example.org]