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The Truth Behind the Cheonan Disaster

Posted March. 30, 2010 03:01,   


The Korean people await news that the missing crew members of the naval patrol boat Cheonan are safe, but have heard nothing on them a full three days after the accident. Dozens of divers combed the stern of the ill-fated vessel, which submerged 40 meters into the sea, from yesterday morning, but found no survivors. The critical 69-hour period, the estimated maximum time the crew members could survive in the sunken boat, passed at 6:30 p.m. yesterday.

The missing crew members from the Cheonan were young people in their prime of life. Of the 46 missing, 31 were in their 20s and four were just 19. All of them are beloved sons, proud husbands or fathers with families. Their bereaved relatives have lost their family leaders and hope, experiencing pain beyond imagination. The families of those who went missing are also suffering immense mental anguish. Chances of finding survivors have dimmed, but authorities and the military must keep exerting rescue efforts in the hope that even one of the 46 missing can be saved.

A number of questions have been raised about how the Cheonan sank, the process of early rescue operations, and subsequent measures taken by the military. The military have released statements inconsistent or different from survivors’ accounts. It also failed to start searching for the Cheonan’s stern, which is believed to contain many of the missing. Considering the sheer magnitude of the accident that drove them to the edge, the military has shown a weakness in its response system.

The Navy urgently dispatched four speedboats, but they were of little help in rescuing the survivors. Most survivors were rescued by the Coast Guard, who rushed to the scene later than the Navy after receiving a request for assistance from the military. The stern was found just 180 meters away from the accident site, but the military wasted two full days to locate it, and needed help from a fishing boat to do so. It is truly disappointing to see the military’s poor capacity to handle the accident.

The military should not try to isolate survivors and keep officials overly tightlipped on the situation. It might want to try using extra caution to preempt unnecessary speculation or predictions on the cause of the accident, a highly sensitive issue. Trying to distort or hide the truth, however, will only bring about a bigger disaster later on. The best strategy is for the military to disclose everything as is in the most transparent manner, however trivial the truth is. No suspicions can be allowed to surround efforts to find the cause. If any misinformation has been announced, the military needs to correct it even belatedly to regain trust. The political circle and the Korean people must pool their wisdom, energy and resources to resolve this crisis. Opposition politicians should also refrain from making groundless accusations over the disaster, matter that is closely linked to national security, or use the fiasco as fuel for a political offensive such as urging the resignation of the Cabinet. Web users should also not spread a groundless conspiracy theory or false rumors using half-baked knowledge and speculations.