The South Korean Navy has deployed more than 10 vessels since Friday to search for the debris of a failed North Korean rocket, but so far little progress has been made, the military said. The rocket broke up within minutes of its take-off and fell into waters 100 km to 150 km west of Pyeongtaek and Gunsan on the peninsula's west coast.
A military official said on Sunday, "We haven't recovered anything that looks like rocket debris, despite dispatching the Cheonghaejin, a 4,300-ton submarine rescue ship, and four minesweepers."
If the fragments are stuck in the bottom of the sea, it makes them hard to detect using sonar technology and difficult to distinguish from other sea waste. The ocean floor lies 40 to 100 m below sea level and the rocket fragments may have left the area in which they are believed to have fallen due to tidal currents.
The Navy is focusing on recovering fragments of second- and third-stage propellants that broke up. These are regarded as the core of the rocket, meaning they could shed light on the North's technology related to missiles and rockets.
To boost their search efforts, the military is now considering mobilizing a trawler that found the torpedo propellant used by North Korea to sink the Cheonan naval corvette over a year ago. "But money is an issue as it would cost W800 million (US$1=W1,134) to search 1 sq. km [using the trawler]. However, we could restrict its use to areas where we think there is a high chance of success," said a government official.
Chinese and Russian ships that patrolled the area on Friday, the day the rocket was launched, have reportedly pulled out.