More U.S. experts for Cheonan probe

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More U.S. experts for Cheonan probe

The United States has provided extra manpower for the probe into the sinking of the Cheonan warship last month, the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul said yesterday.

According to the ministry, the U.S. investigation team now has 15 military and civilian experts, up from eight as initially planned. Led by Rear Admiral Thomas J. Eccles, the American delegation includes vessel structure experts and explosives analysts.

Eccles is the chief engineer and deputy commander for naval systems engineering at the Naval Sea Systems Command of the U.S. Navy.

The ministry said the new members joined the investigation last Friday. Three of the 15 experts were part of the U.S. investigation into the suicide bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer U.S.S. Cole in October 2000.

But the investigation made little progress yesterday. Poor weather conditions off the west coast also forced the suspension of operations to salvage the sunken bow of the Cheonan.

After they concluded last week that an external explosion was the likely cause of the tragedy, investigators have been studying debris from waters where the Cheonan went down. The Defense Ministry said it had yet to find any fragments related to weapons or explosives such as a torpedo or sea mine.

“We’ve recovered 183 pieces of debris but most of them were from the Cheonan itself,” said ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae, refuting media reports that the Navy had discovered pieces that were not part of the sunken ship. “The investigation is ongoing but none of what we’ve analyzed so far is from explosives.”

As experts studied the stern of the Cheonan, the ship’s bow remained in waters near Baengnyeong Island yesterday. Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Park Sung-woo said yesterday a third metal chain connected to the bow to hoist it was severed, likely due to strong and high waves. The military has said four chains will be required to hoist the bow from the sea.

“The waves are reaching up to three meters [9.8 feet] and the wind is blowing at nearly three meters per second,” Park said. “We have to do safety checks on the chains over the next couple of days. But we’ll have to wait for the weather to improve and we expect it will be another three days.”

By Yoo Jee-ho []
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