Cheonan Captain 'Reported Attack'

Immediately after an explosion that caused the 1,200-ton corvette Cheonan to sink in waters near the de facto maritime border with North Korea on March 26, the Captain sent out a message to the Second Navy Fleet Command, saying, "We are being attacked by the enemy."

A military source on Thursday said Captain Choi Won-il sent the message using his mobile phone, according to analysis of communications records. Choi sent the report after confirming that the stern had broken off following the explosion around 9:25 p.m. It is not clear how much information he had at the time.

An official explains why the Navy vessel Sokcho fired shots last Friday in a press briefing at the Defense Ministry in Yongsan, Seoul on Thursday afternoon. An official explains why the Navy vessel Sokcho fired shots last Friday in a press briefing at the Defense Ministry in Yongsan, Seoul on Thursday afternoon.

Military authorities on Thursday gave an official briefing on several points but failed to mention Choi's initial report. They revealed only excerpts of some records of communications exchanged between the ship and command.

In the briefing, the military said the explosion occurred at 9:22 p.m. on March 26. Before Thursday, they had kept changing the time from 9:45 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. to 9:25 p.m. "The actual time of the sinking will be finally confirmed after the ongoing intensive joint civilian-military investigation," a spokesman said.

The military explained the Cheonan approached waters 1.8 km southwest of Baeknyeong Island, where the water is shallow and the current swift, to take shelter and prepare for a "new type of attack" from the North. An officer from the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the Cheonan had already used the route more than a dozen times.

The Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources detected seismic waves of a magnitude of 1.4 to 1.5 at the point of the sinking at 9:21:58 p.m. on March 26, reporters were told.

Another Navy corvette, the Sokcho, reportedly fired shells from 76 mm guns at an unidentified object running north at a speed of 42 knots from the northern side of Baeknyeong Island because it believed it was a North Korean boat that was fleeing after attacking the Cheonan. But according to the military it proved to be a flock of birds.

Meanwhile, search operations were again halted Thursday due to bad weather as hopes of finding any survivors faded.

englishnews@chosun.com / Apr. 02, 2010 10:31 KST