Aussie experts arrive to join Cheonan probe

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Aussie experts arrive to join Cheonan probe

Three Australian experts arrived in Korea yesterday to join seven Americans and dozens of Koreans in investigating the cause of the mysterious Cheonan sinking.

The Ministry of National Defense announced an Australian commander, lieutenant commander and lieutenant came to Seoul yesterday. A military source said the Australians will offer help in maritime disaster analysis. Navy spokesman Bae Myoung-woo said, however, he wasn’t sure about the exact field of their expertise.

On Sunday, seven Americans - three active servicemen and four civilians working in the navy - arrived in Seoul to join Korea’s joint military-civilian investigation team. Britain and Sweden are also expected to dispatch experts to help the Cheonan probe in the near future.

Last week, President Lee Myung-bak called for a scientific and transparent investigation and said he would even ask help from the United Nations to ensure quality.

The cause of the blast that split and sunk the 1,200-ton Cheonan has not been determined, almost three weeks after the incident. Surviving sailors have testified that they heard explosions but didn’t smell any gunpowder. A torpedo, sea mines, an internal explosion and a ship malfunction have been suspected.

Operations to salvage the Cheonan were put on hold yesterday owing to poor weather. On Monday, a part of the sunken stern of the Cheonan was hoisted above water, with several pieces missing, and was carried off to shallower waters near Baengnyeong Island. Bae, the Navy spokesman, yesterday said the hoisted stern was placed back underwater, about 25 meters (82 feet) deep, off Baengnyeong.

In the morning press briefing, Bae said waves near the island were 3 meters high and the wind was blowing at 30 knots (34.5 miles per hour). A high-seas alert remained in effect throughout yesterday and barges and cranes have been moved away from the waters where the rest of the Cheonan remained sunken.

“These weather conditions have stopped our salvage and search operations for now,” he said. “And we’ve also stopped searching for missing parts from the stern before it was moved. We’ll monitor the weather situation and decide when we can resume salvage work. We expect to be able to start again by this weekend.”

Bae also refuted some media reports that military divers closely studied the stern Monday night.

“Divers from the Ship Salvage Unit only tried to make sure the netting around the stern was strong enough to keep the damaged body intact,” Bae explained. “They tightened the netting in some areas in preparation for bad weather conditions.

“To study the damaged stern part, we would need experts in vessel structure, but none of the experts participated in Monday’s move,” Bae added.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, meanwhile, were trying to figure out if more weapons were missing from the Cheonan. Commodore Lee Gi-sik, chief of information operations at the JCS, said yesterday some harpoon missiles weren’t in place at the stern.


By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]

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