April 13, 2010 08:00
Part of the stern of the sunken Navy corvette Cheonan was pulled to the surface on Monday afternoon, 17 days after it sank in an unexplained explosion on March 26. The Navy hauled it about 4.6 km to shallower waters off Baeknyeong Island.
A chimney, two Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and a torpedo tube are missing, suggesting that the ship went under in a powerful external explosion rather than an internal explosion, collision with a rock or metal fatigue. But it was hard to determine the exact cause of the sinking as the ripped-off part along the welded seam has not yet been completely exposed.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said bad weather forced them to haul the stern away to shallower waters off Baeknyeong Island. "In other words, we moved it from waters 45 m deep to a point 25 m deep."
The stern still has its main 76 mm guns, 40 mm auxiliary guns, the tracking radar room, two Harpoon missile tubes, and a triple-barrel torpedo tube, but the chimney was probably blown off in the shock wave.
A military source said there was "no significant damage" to the part of the stern where the ammunition storage is located.
A Navy officer said, "We planned to salvage the stern around Saturday or Sunday by wrapping it with a third chain. But it may be difficult to salvage it until this weekend because the waves are high, the wind is strong and the current has become swifter as the tide began to rise."
A staffer of a ship salvage firm said, "If we attempt to salvage it now, chains could dig into the vulnerable parts of the hull. The durable parts of the hull which could stand the pressure of chains were lost." That is why the wreck was only hauled to shallower waters for safe operations, he added.
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