Hunt for missile debris continues on

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Hunt for missile debris continues on

Following the post-launch explosion of North Korea’s rocket over the Yellow Sea last Friday, the South Korean military continued its search over the weekend for its debris, but no progress was reported as of yesterday.

According to military officials, about 10 vessels as well as some helicopters were dispatched to the waters west of the Korean Peninsula to locate the debris of the North Korean rocket that blew up a minute or two after liftoff.

The military believed the debris was scattered in the waters up to 150 kilometers (93 miles) off the coast between Pyeongtaek and Gunsan, and the search operation continued there yesterday. The Navy sent vessels designed to remove mines and rescue submarines to the areas. The ships and antisubmarine helicopters will use sonar to locate the debris.

The military said it would take some time for the debris to be recovered, as the search operation is taking place in a 6,000-square-kilometer area as large as Gyeonggi Province. Fishing nets and strong currents were also seen as obstacles.

“Because there’s floating garbage, it takes time to even confirm the debris by sight,” a military official said. “The sea bottom is also mudflat and there is also a lot of underwater garbage, and so sonar detection is not easy.”

According to military sources, the search operation was focused on finding the debris of the second- and third-stage boosters because they are expected to be less damaged than the first-stage booster, believed to be shattered into 17 pieces.

The military, however, tried to be tight-lipped about the operation, and analysts said progress, if made, would likely be kept secret because the North could demand the pieces be returned.

“If the North makes the demand, it is the international norm to hand them over,” said Lee Seok-woo, a professor of law at Inha University Law School. “In that case, the South can demand the North pay for the salvage operation. If the North doesn’t pay, we don’t have to give it to them.”

If the debris is collected, it will be sent to the Agency for Defense Development for analysis. The military and the government believe that the analysis, if it takes place, will allow the South the opportunity to study the North’s progress in long-range missile technology.

By Ser Myo-ja, Jeong Yong-soo []
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