Ship’s stern salvaged, searched today

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Ship’s stern salvaged, searched today

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The sunken stern of the Cheonan is supposed to be removed from the sea today, nearly three weeks after the 1,200-ton corvette mysteriously went down off the west coast.

The Ministry of National Defense announced yesterday the operation to retrieve the rear part of the Cheonan was scheduled to get under way at 9 a.m. today. On Monday, the stern broke the water’s surface for the first time before it was moved to shallower waters to facilitate the salvage operation.

Park Sung-woo, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said divers would connect a third chain around the stern to lift it with a crane. The military had said it would need three chains to retrieve the stern and four chains to salvage the bow. Poor weather conditions Monday, with strong winds and high waves, put salvage operations on hold and prevented barges and cranes from reaching the waters where the Cheonan lay.

Navy Cmdr. Song Moo-jin of the Ship Salvage Unit estimated that the stern would weigh about 955 tons, including water filling the ship.

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YTN은 13일 천안함 함미 부분 절단면에 그물로 덮는 작업을 벌이는 사진을 입수해 보도했다. 위 사진 붉은 원안이 절단면 부분이고 아래 사진은 절단면을 확대한 것이다. << YTN TV 촬영 >> [연합뉴스]

“The actual weight of the stern is estimated at 625 tons, and our calculation on the amount of water and oil inside is 330 tons,” Song said. “Based on the U.S. navy field manual on salvage operations, the safe working load for one crane chain is 400 tons. Trying to lift 955 tons with two chains, as some media have suggested we should, would be extremely dangerous.”

According to the ministry’s estimate, retrieving the stern would require up to 11 hours. The process will include draining water from that piece, placing it on a barge and searching for the bodies of missing men.

Of 104 sailors aboard at the time of the sinking, 58 were rescued and 44 are still missing, while two were found dead. Survivors have said a strong explosion split the vessel in two and the rear of the ship disappeared from sight in about a minute, but they didn’t smell any gunpowder.

After studying photos and TV coverage showing the broken exterior of the stern after it was raised above the waterline on Monday, some military officials concluded that an outside explosion was the likely cause.

“Either there was some impact underneath the ship, or some material entered into the ship and exploded there,” one high-ranking military official said. “Looking at the shape of the flooring, I don’t think an internal explosion would be the cause. Also, it couldn’t have been due to some impact from the side.”

North Korean involvement, through a torpedo attack or sea mine, has been suspected from the start. Other theories include an internal explosion or a ship malfunction as a possible cause.

Attending the National Assembly’s standing committee on national defense, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said yesterday that the South Korean military is preparing for all possible situations.

“I believe it’s inappropriate for us to presume a North Korean attack when the cause hasn’t been determined yet,” Kim said. “But we are developing plans to deal with every possibility. We’re considering military and nonmilitary measures.”

Later, Kim explained he had only meant the military was preparing to support any government decision.

When asked if he meant the action would include military measures, he said, “I would like to withdraw what I’d said earlier.”

Representative Yoo Seong-min of the Grand National Party argued that if North Korea is behind the explosion that took down the Cheonan, then one of the options for the Defense Ministry must be of a military nature.

Kim Tae-young agreed and said, “I think it’s the obligation and responsibility for our ministry [to consider military action].”


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

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백령도 남방 1천370m 지점 해역에 가라앉아 있는 천안함 함미 인양작업이 15일 오전 9시에 본격적으로 시작됐다.

이날 인양작업은 대형 크레인선을 이용해 세 가닥의 체인이 연결된 함미를 서서히 물 밖으로 끌어올리는 방식으로 진행되며, 이후 배수작업과 안전조치에 이어 본격인 선체 내부 실종자 수색작업이 실시된다.

인양에서부터 실종자 수색까지는 11시간이 걸릴 것으로 군은 예상하고 있다.

인양에 앞선 오전 8시44분에는 사고 해역의 독도함에서 유가족 대표 등이 참석한 가운데 모든 실종자를 수습할 수 있기를 기원하는 위령제가 열렸으며, 주변의 해군 전 함정은 15초간 애도의 기적을 울렸다.


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