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Weather prevents dive searches for SKorea sailors

world Updated: Apr 01, 2010 09:37 IST
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A second day of bad weather and rough seas on Thursday prevented divers from resuming searches for 46 sailors missing since a mysterious blast blew apart their South Korean navy ship last week, officials said.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff said more than 100 military divers were on standby to go down to the wreckage of the Cheonan, but would hold off due to rain, strong winds, rough waves and low visibility. Parts of the ship remain submerged in the rough Yellow Sea near Baengnyeong Island, just south of the two Koreas' maritime border. A crane was expected to arrive at the accident site later Thursday to prepare for salvaging the vessel, Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae told reporters. Officials have said the salvage effort could last a month.

Authorities have said the cause of the blast likely won't be known until the ship is retrieved; they have suggested several scenarios, including that a North Korean mine hit it. Divers have managed to get down to the section where sailors are believed trapped but heard no signs of life inside, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. They attempted to get into a door in the stern Tuesday but made little headway, Rear Adm. Lee Ki-sik said. A 53-year-old diver who lost consciousness during a rescue attempt died Tuesday.

The 1,200-ton ship went down after an explosion ripped through it Friday night during a routine patrol. Fifty-eight crew members, including the captain, were rescued.

President Barack Obama offered South Korean President Lee Myung-bak his support and condolences. The White House said Wednesday that Obama told Lee that the thoughts and prayers of the US are with the victims and those missing.

Military officials say the exact cause of the explosion remains unclear, and US and South Korean officials say there is no evidence of North Korean involvement.

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, however, told lawmakers this week that a floating mine dispatched from North Korea was one possible explanation for the blast. A mine left over from the 1950-53 Korean War may also have struck the ship, he said.

The military has also not ruled out the possibility of a torpedo attack.

A North Korean diplomat in Beijing who was contacted by The Associated Press said Wednesday he had no information about the sinking.