March 29, 2010

South Korea's Choenan Navy Ship Sinking Mystery

While the search for the missing 46 Korean sailors continues (as families of the missing eagerly wait for the search results), the mystery over the sinking of South Korean naval ship Choenan is intensifying. No definitive cause of the sinking has been identified. The South Korean government initially downplayed any possible North Korea's involvement, but now suggests a possibility of North Korean mine, or a mine left over from the Korean War. This is unlikely as the location of the sinking took place south of a South Korean island that is near the disputed sea border with North Korea. And it is more unlikely that Korean War-era mine could have created a blast severe enough to break the large 1200-ton Choenan in half.

Some observers are asking why Choenan, a large ship, was sailing in the part of the West Sea (Yellow Sea) where the water is shallow and currents are rapid. Usually, small and fast boats patrol this area. Could this have been a result of an accident during a military exercise in the area? The South Korean government has not been forthcoming with definitive information on the incident, further fueling doubts and uncertainties. Because this incident took place near the disputed sea border with North Korea, it highlights the dangers of unresolved issues of the Korean War, which is still technically not over (due to the lack of formal peace treaty ending it).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We will know fairly definitively how 'mysterious' or 'curious' this tragedy really is, once the wreck of the Cheonan has been raised and an assessment of how the forces acted upon it (inward or outward) is offered to us.

At that point, we should get a straight-up call on whether the explosion was internal or external. If we don't, then the 'mysterious-curious' aspect gets real legs & begins building 'rightful' momentum. And at that point, I won't stand in the way of it.

But until then, it could just as well be an honest-to-goodness mystery to Seoul, as it is to us.

I'm concerned by a couple post-incident issues that have arisen. One, there has been consistent inconsistency in the reports of sea & weather conditions, and whether divers could or couldn't get on the wreck. I saw pictures of the search activity (for survivors, bodies & debris), and pictures of the upside-down bow section ... and conditions were very mild.

Secondly, I've seen 2 versions of the Captain's first-person report (media statement). In the first I saw, the Captain says, 'There was an explosion. I stepped outside the bridge and looked aft, and the stern was gone'.

The second version goes; 'There was an explosion and I was trapped in my cabin for about 5 minutes, until my colleagues broke the glass out of my window and helped me escape. When I stepped out on deck, the stern was gone'.

Was the Captain on the bridge, or in his cabin? Was there really a 5 minute delay, in which he could not figure out to break the glass, himself?

None of my 'concerns' go to the heart of the incident ... which is, 'what blew up?', and, 'was it inside or outside'?

Ted Clayton