Torpedo ‘likely’ cause of sinking

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Torpedo ‘likely’ cause of sinking

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Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said yesterday he thinks a torpedo attack is the more likely cause of the sinking of the Navy patrol ship Cheonan.

During a question-and-answer session on emergency matters at the National Assembly in Seoul, Kim said a torpedo attack and a sea mine blast were the two most likely causes of the tragedy, but he put more weight on the idea of a torpedo attack.

Kim’s response followed a question by ruling Grand National Party lawmaker Kim Dong-sung, who inquired which of two possible causes - torpedo or mine - was more likely.

“In case of a torpedo attack, either the weapon can hit the ship directly or it can explode right below the vessel and create a bubble jet effect [a type of underwater explosion] to break the ship,” Kim said. “The picture of the cut sections seems like it had been hit by a torpedo directly.”

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Kim said that’s why the severed section of the Cheonan’s bow was shaped like the letter “C.”

The Defense Ministry made public Wednesday recorded footage by a thermal observation device showing the bow of the sunken Navy ship.

Kim said that a seismic wave detected at the time of the explosion was consistent with the blast of a North Korean torpedo.

The Korean Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources detected the seismic wave of 1.4 to 1.5 magnitude underwater when the Cheonan was presumed to have ripped in half.

Such magnitude is equivalent to an explosion of 170 to 180 kilograms (374 to 396 pounds) of TNT.

The minister added that a marine who recorded the footage with a thermal observation device on Baengnyeong Island, which was near the explosion in the Yellow Sea near the inter-Korean border, saw a type of water column that erupts after a torpedo blast.

Meanwhile, military rescue divers resumed an underwater operation in search of 46 missing crew members from the Cheonan yesterday.

The rescue mission, which was suspended for two days since Wednesday due to strong winds and high waves, resumed around 11 a.m., according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul.

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“A total of 54 and 48 divers have implemented an underwater mission at the submerged rear and front sections of the ship, respectively,” said a defense official on condition of anonymity. “For the rear part, divers went down three times between 10:41 and 11:38 a.m. Other divers for the bow part also dived three times between 10:55 and 11:48 a.m.”

A total of 169 military divers from South Korea and the United States continued underwater operations throughout the day, with Washington also assisting with a rescue vessel, an amphibious ship and helicopters.

The ministry later said, however, no progress was made.

The Navy corvette Cheonan sank after an blast tore it apart near the tense Yellow Sea border with North Korea at night on March 26. Among 104 crew members on board, 58, including the captain, were pulled out to safety, while the others remain missing. Prospects for their survival are dim.



By Kang Min-seok, Lee Min-yong [smartpower@joongang.co.kr]
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