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Cheonan`s Stern Found, But Poor Visibility Slows Rescue

Posted March. 30, 2010 03:01,   


The stern of the sunken naval patrol ship Cheonan was found yesterday, so the military’s efforts to determine the cause of the sinking are likely to accelerate.

Though the accident happened four days ago, the military still does not know whether the explosion occurred inside the ship or outside. Since the ship salvage unit found a way to approach the stern yesterday, the cause of the explosion might be identified before the Cheonan is salvaged.

○ In which direction did the iron plate get bent?

To find out what caused the vessel to sink, the body of the ship needs to be examined. Basic questions can be answered when the ship salvage unit investigates the hole in the broken area of the forward and rear parts of the vessel or take photos of the area.

An iron plate getting bent toward the inside means the explosion occurred outside of the vessel, and outward warping means the explosion happened within the ship.

To identify the conditions of the hole with the naked eye or photos is tough, however. A Defense Ministry official said, “Visibility is possible only up to 30 centimeters under water. Rescuers should fumble around in the water looking for missing soldiers.”

More time might also be needed to discern the reason for the explosion since the higher priority is on identifying and searching for the missing crew.

○ Possibility of quickly detecting the first hole

Had the Cheonan sank after it broke into two parts shortly after the explosion as explained by survivors, the stern might contain a hole. The stern lies on a mud flat.

Accordingly, the possibility of examining the stern has increased. In other words, the ship salvage unit can find out in which direction the hole got bent with their hands.

The location of the hole could serve as direct evidence to determine what caused the vessel to sink. A hole on the bottom of the ship means a mine was to blame, but a hole on the side of the body could mean a torpedo or other factors.

If the hole in the ship is buried in the mud flat, more work will be needed to find the cause of the sinking since the ship salvage unit must search the ship.

○ If the hole was in the broken area

If the hole is in the broken area, it might have been destroyed when the ship broke into two parts. In this case, it will be hard to find the cause of the accident since both the front part and stern of the ship should be refloated and investigated. If the hole is not located, a long examination is in store.

Based on the current situation, however, many experts say an external attack sank the ship, not internal problems.

A former naval servicemen who is now a ship expert said, “If the testimony that the Cheonan sank after it was split in two shortly after an explosion is right, the only explanation for the explosion is an external attack. It is impossible for an internal problem to cause a 1,200-ton vessel to sink in an uncontrollable manner unless ammunition loaded on the vessel is ignited at once.”