[Viewpoint] The best proof is torpedo shrapnel

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[Viewpoint] The best proof is torpedo shrapnel

If we think that a North Korean submarine or a semi-submersible attacked the Cheonan with a torpedo, there’s lots of circumstantial evidence to support the theory. While other possibilities, such as an internal explosion, a crash into a rock or a fatigue fracture, do not match the circumstantial evidence, a torpedo attack fits the puzzle nicely. The pattern of a sunken ship, the capacity of the North Korean navy and the intention of the North Korean regime all suggest that a torpedo attack is plausible.

In June 1999, the Australian navy conducted a torpedo launch test. A submarine fired a torpedo at a 2,700-ton destroyer that was to be retired. The torpedo exploded in the water right below the center of the ship. The middle section of the enormous destroyer was lifted up and cracked immediately. The subsequent bubble jet broke the ship into two. The stern of the ship sank instantly, and the bow went down after a few hours.

The pattern is very similar to the tragic fate of Cheonan. The survivors from the incident testified that their bodies were lifted up. The Cheonan was also divided into two in the middle, and the stern and the bow sank just like the Australian destroyer’s. In the test, the submarine launched a torpedo with 300 kilograms of TNT to destroy the 2,700-ton ship. The Cheonan was 1,200 tons, so 130 kilograms (286.6 pounds) of TNT are enough to sink it. The seismic wave detected at Baengnyeong Island was equivalent to shock waves from an explosion of 180 kilograms of TNT.

The location of the incident is far from the Northern Limit Line and has shallow waters and rough currents. However, to a North Korean submarine unit, such conditions do not hinder their operation.

In December 1998, a North Korean semi-submersible was spotted in the southern sea off Yeosu and explored the waters of Tongyeong until it was hit by shells fired from a South Korean corvette. In June 1996, a North Korean submarine penetrated into the East Sea off Gangneung and was caught in fishing nets.

Simply put, North Korean submarines are operating all over the Korean Peninsula. The North Korean agents on the submarine that came to Gangneung killed many of their own crew members to get rid of evidence and fled to the North. North Korean submarine units are infamous for their radical and violent operation. So they would not be deterred by currents or winds.

In November 2009, North Korea suffered the defeat of its patrol boat, which was half-destroyed at the Battle of Daecheong. Pyongyang has since threatened a number of times that “any provocation by the South will be followed by retaliations, and it will have to pay a high price.”

There are also opinions that North Korea would not provoke the South at a sensitive time like now. Provoking Seoul before the resumption of the six-party talks and Kim Jong-il’s visit to China would be a considerable burden to Pyongyang.

However, as reckless as it is, North Korea might have decided that it could pull off a torpedo attack secretly. In the past, North Korea thought it actually would not be caught for its bombing of a Korean Air flight in 1987 or the submarine penetration in Gangneung in 1996.

It might have assumed that Pyongyang would not be held responsible as long as the submarine was not caught, since the shrapnel of the torpedo would be lost in the sea. It might also have thought the incident would be a message to Seoul that such an attack would happen if the inter-Korean deadlock continues.

There is no hard evidence that a North Korean torpedo is responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan. However, considering all circumstantial factors, a torpedo attack is emerging as the most plausible cause.

Most experts agree that an internal explosion, a crash into a rock or a fatigue fracture would not produce a shock wave equivalent to the explosion of 180 kilograms of TNT or lift the bodies of the sailors onboard.

As in any mysterious incident, we need to focus on proving the most plausible possibility first. In 1946, a British destroyer sank in the sea off Albania, and the British navy combed the sea bottom and found two pieces of shrapnel from a German-made torpedo.

If the Cheonan was indeed attacked by a North Korean torpedo, it is most urgent to find torpedo shrapnel. Circumstantial evidence might suggest a torpedo attack, but there is no more solid evidence than torpedo debris. If the sea is a field, a piece of shrapnel would be a clump of grass. It might be nearly impossible for the mine-hunting ships and divers to find such evidence.

That’s why a search by two trawl boats should be mobilized to comb the sea thoroughly. The vicinity must be combed over and over. The size of each grid of a fishing net on the trawl boats is just a few square inches, and the reaction of the Republic of Korea depends on such tiny grids.


*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Jin
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