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S Korea says torpedo might have sunk warship

South Korea's defence minister said today that a torpedo might have sunk a warship near the tense North Korean border but cautioned that the investigation was incomplete.

world Updated: Apr 02, 2010 14:47 IST

South Korea's defence minister said on Friday that a torpedo might have sunk a warship near the tense North Korean border but cautioned that the investigation was incomplete.

"A torpedo or a sea mine might have been involved but a torpedo is a more realistic cause than a mine," minister Kim Tae-Young told parliament as divers resumed a search for 46 sailors missing from the 1,200-tonne corvette.

Sailors operating the ship's sonar detection system had not detected any approaching torpedo, Kim said, adding: "Patience is needed until investigation results come out."

A week after the disaster, officials are still groping for answers as to what caused the ship to break in two in the Yellow Sea on the night of March 26.

Earlier in the week Kim had said a North Korean mine -- either drifting or deliberately placed -- may have caused the blast. He did not say Friday why he now thought a torpedo more likely and did not indicate who might have fired one.

The disputed border was the scene of deadly naval clashes between North and South Korea in 1999 and 2002 and of a firefight last November.

The minister told legislators the chances of an explosion inside the warship were slim, although he did not rule them out. Addressing another theory, he said metal fatigue was unlikely in the 21-year-old ship.

Seoul has ordered its military on alert but not cited any evidence the North was involved.
Fifty-eight crewmen were saved soon after the sinking, but no one since then. Officials suspect most of the missing are in the rear section of the hull.

After suspending work for two days because of high waves and strong currents, US and South Korean divers Friday resumed attempts to explore the hull sections.

"It is very hard to say when we will be able to find the missing," military spokesman Lee Ki-Shik told a briefing earlier in the day. "Our rescuers are still trying to get in despite the bad weather, so please be patient."

No one has officially declared the missing to be dead, even though the air in any watertight compartments would likely have been used up.

Rescuers have pumped oxygen into the hull but Kim acknowledged Friday the operation "is not working very well".

Apart from establishing the fate of the missing, authorities are desperate for clues to the cause of the disaster.

Officials have said these may not emerge until the hull sections are lifted from the murky seabed. A private salvage ship is at the scene.

President Lee Myung-Bak appealed Friday for people not to overreact.

"North Korea and the international community are watching. We should look into the case in a calm manner and use it as a chance to elevate national capability," he said.