May 14, 2010 07:59
Investigators are comparing several aluminum alloy fragments recovered from the wreck of the Navy corvette Cheonan with a North Korean torpedo sample, Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae said Thursday. The corvette sank in an unexplained explosion in the West Sea on March 26.
The North Korean torpedo is a light training weapon retrieved on the South Korean coast a ways off from the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border in the West Sea, seven years ago.
Since training torpedoes are identical to real ones except for the warhead, they can be easily used for comparison. Analysis is underway at the National Institute of Scientific Investigation.
A senior government official urged caution, saying, "The probe is still underway. We're checking out various possibilities. Would North Korea have fired a torpedo made with material that could be identified so easily?"
Experts speculate that the training torpedo was discovered when a North Korean submarine penetrated deep into South Korean waters to conduct a clandestine exercise here.
But a military source dismissed this. "It goes against common sense. It would be very risky for any submarine to fire even a training torpedo in the rear of the enemy because that would risk revealing military secrets if retrieved by the enemy. It seems the torpedo was fired in the North Korean waters and washed away with the tidal currents."
Earlier, officials said investigators discovered traces of an explosive used in torpedoes and retrieved fragments of an aluminum-magnesium alloy typically used to make the casing in the wreckage of the Cheonan.
The team is in the final stage of investigation and hopes to announce its findings no later than May 20.
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