Navy gearing up to salvage sunken warship

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Navy gearing up to salvage sunken warship

The Navy began preparations for salvaging a South Korean warship that sank near the western sea border with North Korea 10 days ago after halting an underwater rescue operation for the ship's missing sailors, military officials said Sunday.

The 1,200-ton Navy corvette Cheonan broke in two and sank in the Yellow Sea after an unexplained explosion on March 26. Fifty-eight of the 104 crew members were rescued soon after, while one sailor was found dead in the stern of the sunken ship on Saturday. The other 45 are still listed as missing.

"The search and rescue operation for the missing sailors was called off Saturday night at the request of their families," said a Navy official. "The military will do its best to lift the sunken ship as soon as possible, in consideration of the circumstances of the families."

The official said the Navy will team up with private companies to devise detailed salvage plans within the coming week, estimating the entire process could take up to a month. He noted that specially trained Marine and Navy divers, as well as the U.S. landing ship "Harpers Ferry" will also participate in the salvage operation.

The Navy official said that four giant cranes and three barges will be used to pull up the front and rear parts of the sunken corvette from the sea floor.

Another 3,600-ton sea crane is also on its way to the site of the sinking to join the salvage operation, he added.

Navy officials said it may take a "considerably long time" to refloat the hulls considering the exceptionally heavy weight of the sunken ship and the inclement weather in the Yellow Sea. In a previous salvage operation, the Navy managed to raise a 130-ton patrol boat to the surface 53 days after it sank in the Yellow Sea in 2002, they noted.

As bad weather and dangerous conditions have hindered efforts to find the missing crew members, a veteran diver from the Navy's Underwater Demolition Team died last week during a search operation.

The body of Senior Chief Petty Officer Nam Ki-hoon was recovered after a desperate search in the stern of the Cheonan on Saturday evening, prompting the families of other missing sailors to demand a halt to the search operation.

The Navy said it will continue to search for missing sailors it believes may not have been trapped in the stern of the sunken ship and will continue its investigation into the cause of the sinking. [Yonhap]

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