‘Close-up blast’ sank Korea ship

Last month’s
mysterious sinking of a South Korean warship was due to a
“close-range” explosion under the ship, a preliminary inquiry has
found.

After
examining the bow of the ship, salvaged on Saturday, officials say the warship
was damaged by a “bubble jet” caused by an external underwater blast.

Analysts say
that such an effect could be caused by a torpedo or a mine exploding below the
ship.

An explosion
split the Cheonan in half and it sank, leaving 46 sailors dead.

The ship’s
sinking has fuelled tensions with North Korea, who many South Koreans believe
was responsible for the sinking.

South Korea’s
government has so far taken care not to directly accuse the North.

“Instead
of being directly hit by a torpedo or other underwater weapon, the Cheonan was
affected by a strong explosion that occurred below its bottom at a close
range,” an official quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said.

South Korean
Defence Minister Kim Tae-young said that although the bubble jet effect is the
most likely explanation “the possibility of other causes is still under
investigation.”

The minister
said it would take about a month for the investigation team to come up with the
final results of its inquiry.

On Saturday
the front half of the Cheonan, a 1,200-tonne corvette, was salvaged by a giant
crane for inspection.

Fifty-eight
sailors were rescued after the explosion on 26 March.

Tensions
mounting

An earlier
investigation has already concluded that the explosion which sank the ship was
external, fuelling suspicions North Korea may have been involved.

South Korea
has avoided blaming the North outright and Pyongyang has denied any role in the
sinking of the vessel.

But tensions
have mounted over the incident, with Pyongyang accusing Seoul of
“deliberately linking” it to the sinking.

South Korean
President Lee Myung-bak has vowed to respond “resolutely” to the
sinking and bolster the military, though he has not accused North Korea.

The two
countries are still technically at war since the 1950-53 war ended without a
peace treaty. There have been three previous naval clashes in the same area as
the Cheonan went down, off the west coast of the peninsula.

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