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Breaking:North Suspected in S. Korean Ship Sinking

March 26, 2010

A S Korean Pohang class corvette similar to the Cheonan that sank Friday under mysterious circumstances. Photo is from the Naval Power website

Check out Breaking Updates at the bottom of the page.

Decided to transplant some of this from the Breaking News page:

What we know so far:

  • The BBCSouth Korean navy ship sinks near sea border with North “A South Korean navy ship with about 100 personnel on board has sunk off the west coast near North Korea.
    The exact cause of the sinking was unclear, but an explosion was reported in the rear of the ship.
    There was speculation it could have been from a torpedo from the North. The involvement of North Korea has not been confirmed by officials. Fifty eight of the sailors were rescued from near Baengnyeong island by several navy and coastguard vessels. It was unclear what had happened to the remaining 46 personnel.”
  • War News Update-“I have some good contacts in South Korea. They have just told me the following.
    The South Korean President has convened an emergency meeting of his security council.
    All South Korean and US forces have been put on the highest of alert. There is genuine fear in Seoul. It is now 1:30 AM Saturday morning in Korea. The next 5-6 hours will tell us where this is all going.
  • BBR (Brave Band of Readers)- Matt says “The web says the Cheonan was a Pohang class frigate – small and dated maybe, but equipped with sonar and Mk 46 torpedoes. Designed to tackle subs, in at least some capacity.If it turns out that an antiquated sub from the North sank the Cheonan, maybe it reinforces the maxim that at sea, there are subs, and then there are targets.” D.E. says “(The SK corvette)… carried no missiles and instead was armed with guns, torpedoes, and depth charges. And the depth charges were carried at the stern in two racks of six d.c.s, each. If there were an accidental explosion with a d.c., then a stern explosion would be rather massive and likely would sink the ship. But then, a wake-following torpedo would create the same outcome.” Hudson says “This from MSNBC: “South Korea scrambled naval vessels to the border after an explosion ripped a hole in the bottom of the ship, officials and news reports said.” This would suggest a mine. Article plays down suspicion of Nork foul play. My guess is foul play – long history of this.”

Specs:

  • Length-88 meters
  • Width-10 meters
  • Draft-2.9 meters
  • Weight-1300 tons full
  • Speed-32 knots
  • Range-4000 miles at 15 knots (?)
  • Crew-95
  • Armament-ASW version: Torpedoes, depth charges, hull mounted sonar 2-Exocet ASM
    AAW version: 2-40mm cannons
    All-1 or 2-76mm OTO Melara cannon

*****

*****

Update-From Robert Farley at the Guardian: “If the sinking of Cheonan was intentional, it creates a serious crisis for the Koreas’ neighbors and for the United States. None of the US, Japan, or China desire the threat of major military action on the Korean Peninsula. The US, still embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan, doesn’t want another military confrontation on its plate. At the same time, it will be difficult for the US to restrain South Korea from some form of retaliation. Japan’s patience with North Korea has similarly run thin, and it is unlikely that Tokyo could be relied on too heavily as a voice of caution. Beijing has only limited affection for its North Korean client, but certainly does not want war, or even the threat of war…”

Craig Hooper asks is this “A “Remember the Maine” moment?”

Paul Maidment at Forbes blogs “Deadly maritime exchanges between North and South Korea have occurred on several occasions over the years. They are part of the tension of a game in which North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il repeatedly plays a high-risk hand. He looks now to be holding fewer cards than ever. At some point he will overplay his hand.”

*****

More-What we Know as of 6:00 PM Eastern

Defense News provides some details of developments:

  • There is no clear indication the North was involved.
  • 40 sailors are still missing out of a crew of 104.
  • The Navy will “dive after daybreak to investigate the cause of the sinking and possibly retrieve bodies.”
  • 6 Navy ships, 2 Coast Guard vessels and 4 other craft were involved in the rescue operation.
  • The JCS said there were no abnormal military movements on the North Korean side of the disputed maritime border.

*****

Update-As of 6:42 AM

North Korea “not involved” in sinking warship

This according to Radio Netherlands-“South Korea says the North is unlikely to have been involved in the sinking of one of its navy vessels near their disputed border.
South Korea’s defence ministry says no North Korean ship was in the area at the time of the accident. It added that the exact cause of the accident is not yet clear.
The warship sank on Friday evening after an explosion destroyed most of of its rear.
The defence ministry says 58 of the ship’s 104 crew have been rescued while 46 are still missing.”

Here is an AP News Alert-“Hopes faded Saturday for the rescue of 46 marines missing after an explosion sank a South Korean military ship…”

The BBC has a photo gallery.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. Hudson permalink
    March 30, 2010 1:51 pm

    Adding to the stew of theories on the SKorea ship sinking is this from the AP posted on Yahoo News today. Link goes on forever.

    North Korean navy suicide squads known as “human torpedoes” could also be behind the explosion, wrote a North Korean defector living in Seoul in a post on his personal blog.

    Chang Jin-seong, a poet who worked for the North’s spy agency before he fled the country in 2004, wrote that some North Korean navy combat units train specifically for suicide attacks.

    “Marines are trained to drive the bombs toward the target,” Chang said.

  2. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 30, 2010 12:12 am

    It might be just me, but this would seem to suggest that the fecal material may be about to be broadly spread by the rotary air circulation mechanism.

    SKorean president orders military on alert

    By JEAN H. LEE (AP) – 57 minutes ago

    SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s president ordered the military on alert Tuesday for any moves by rival North Korea after the defense minister said last week’s explosion and sinking of a South Korean ship may have been caused by a North Korean mine.

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jQydsIWmNQZpwRriADac51u5rx8gD9EOMD6O1

  3. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 29, 2010 11:13 pm

    Wow…

    I do believe that nicegirl’s entry ended up being posted here in a most unexpected manner both for her and for us!

  4. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 29, 2010 12:20 pm

    Mike,

    Maybe… But go over to that MP.net thread about this incident and read what the Korean commenters are now stating on page 18 (you might want to restart on page 14 and work forward to get the whole feel of how things are developing). The Norks are now protesting this Yellow Sea ‘exercise’. And the Norks had recon flights up on the day of the sinking. Maybe the Norks were watching for a sinkex exercise consequence – one which they initiated…

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 29, 2010 11:48 am

    D.E. that makes the most sense of anything I’ve heard so far, the old mine theory.

  6. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 29, 2010 11:02 am

    South Korean defence minister Kim Tae Young is now suggesting that the explosion which sank the frigate Cheosan was caused by an old Korean War era mine or by a newer one released by North Korea. Here are three reports about this and other developments relating to this incident.

    Wall Street Journal: MARCH 29, 2010, 8:20 A.M. ET

    Divers Reach South Korean Wreckage

    By EVAN RAMSTAD

    SEOUL—Divers on Monday reached the wreckage of a South Korean patrol boat that sank on Friday night but were unable to get inside to search for 46 sailors still missing.

    Meanwhile, South Korea’s defense minister told members of parliament there’s a chance the ship was a struck by an old North Korean mine that drifted southward. Also Monday, four ships and an elite diving crew from the U.S. Navy arrived to help the South Korean navy with the search effort.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304370304575151463261442990.html?mod=WSJ_latestheadlines

    SKorea: Mine from NKorea may have sunk naval ship

    (AP) – 2 hours ago

    BAENGNYEONG ISLAND, South Korea — South Korea’s defense minister says North Korea may have intentionally floated a mine to damage a naval ship that exploded and sank this week.

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jQydsIWmNQZpwRriADac51u5rx8gD9EO9ITG0

    Times Online March 29, 2010

    South Korean warship ‘may have hit old mine’

    Richard Lloyd Parry in Tokyo

    The explosion which split in two a South Korean naval ship may have been caused by a sixty-year old sea mine, the country’s defence minister said yesterday, as rescuers spent a fourth day searching for the 46 missing sailors believed to have gone down with the vessel close to the disputed border with North Korea.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article7080157.ece

  7. Hudson permalink
    March 29, 2010 10:29 am

    This from MSNBC:

    South Korea’s defense minister surmised that a mine dating from the Korean War might have been the cause of the explosion that sank a S. Korean patrol vessel on Friday. Apparently, there are some 4,000 mines in the water left over from the war. North Korea issued its standard warnings about stirring up provocations inside its borders, and warned against allowing journalists to observe the buffer zone between the two nations at that part of the DMZ.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36076731/ns/world_news-asiapacific/

  8. Chuck Hill permalink
    March 28, 2010 9:33 pm

    South Korea has to be in a quandary. If it turns out that the North Koreans caused this, what do they do?

    If they don’t do anything they are seen as weak.

    If they launch a punitive strike, the NKs are unpredictable enough to use it as an excuse to Nuc Seoul.

    I think they are suppressing any indication it was a North Korean attack.

  9. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 28, 2010 1:14 pm

    South Korea has already sent a search & rescue vessel along with two sonar-equipped minesweepers to the site of the sinking of the Cheosan. Examination of the site has shown that the corvette did indeed break into two portions. Now, a USN vessel is joining the effort. Further, the ROKN helicopter carrier Dokdo will be joining the search & retrieval effort. The latter may simply be an effort to provide a ship with large crew manning capability. Or, she may be bringing a large detachment of ASW helicopters to the scene. These could suppress any mini-submarine operations near the site.

    S.Korea stepped up efforts to rescue missing sailors
    English.news.cn 2010-03-28 22:45:58

    SEOUL, March 28 (Xinhua) — The South Korean military on Sunday stepped up its efforts to rescue 46 missing sailors from the warship that sank later Friday in waters off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula, but the operation has not made any progress.

    According to the state-run broadcaster KBS, a 86-member Navy rescue team has launched underwater operations earlier the day, trying to determine the exact location of the sunken ship and confirm whether there are some survivors.

    After repeated failures caused by rough waves and low temperature, the military divers finally located the front of the ship around 19:57 p.m. local time. The ship is believed to have been split into two by an unexplained explosion.

    http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2010-03/28/c_13228128.htm

  10. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 27, 2010 8:50 pm

    Here’s some more commentary / reporting from a Korean contributing to the thread regarding this at MP.net. It’s from posting # 231 of page 16. Again, some light editing has been utilized to correct the English.

    “The captain said:

    “Around 21:30 (12:30 UTC) of 26 March 2010, a huge single explosion occurred at the stern of the ROKS Cheonan (PCC-772) causing the ship to break into two. Within 5 minutes, the rear part submerged completely, and the front part heeled 90 degrees to the right.””

    Also, there is now a Wikipedia entry for the incident.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ROKS_Cheonan_(PCC-772)

  11. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 27, 2010 5:13 pm

    Here’s a link to page 14 of the thread at MP.net covering this matter. Pages 14 & 15 provide the most up-to-date information with survivor comments (included in multiple news reports). An NCO in the engine room suddenly found himself seeing everything two meters aft of his position simply gone. The aft third of the Cheosan broke off and sank within three minutes. The captain of the Cheosan had to use his cellphone to contact his headquarters as all power on the ship was gone. Then the remaining two-thirds of the ship developed a list and capsized.

    South korea looking into possible torpedo attack by north

    http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?176651-South-korea-looking-into-possible-torpedo-attack-by-north/page14

    Posting # 217 from page 15…

    Some updates from survivor testimony:

    1. It was a single blast, not a chain of blasts;
    2. The blast was “external”, not “internal”;
    3. The shock of blast was such that it lifted the whole ship by a foot then dropped;
    4. The ship broke into two sections upon blast and the rear section sank in 3 minutes. This is the reason for high casualty rate, as the rear section housed sleeping/resting quarters;
    5. The reason survivors jumped into water was because they believed that the front section too would go down within minutes;
    6. At this point, torpedo or mine attack is the suspected cause, with the mine being the most likely cause.

  12. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 27, 2010 5:05 pm

    If it was NK, what would have set them off? Recent wargames with the US had the military on edge all week. Could be some local commander had enough. Could be this came from the top from Kim himself to distract from political troubles at home, the old “wagging the dog” scenario.

    Could have been an accident still.

  13. Hudson permalink
    March 27, 2010 4:59 pm

    From D.E.R’s post, it is clear, as stated by the surviving sailors, that the explosion was not internal. That means a mine or torpedo or possibly gunfire–the gunfire in previous accounts has not been properly explained at this point–that set off the explosion My guess now is a torp that set off the depth charges on the ships stern, if in fact such were in the stern.

    Depth charges, I am guessing, are highly stable weapons and would not spontaneously erupt. But an explosion like a mine or torpedo might well set off the charges all at once, accounting for the catastrophic damage. The North has semi-submersible craft that might elude deep-searching sonar. The LCS, by contrast, has sonar optimized for littoral threats. And the corvette might not have been actively searching for anything hostile. I am holding to my first guess of Nork involvement in this sinking.

  14. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 27, 2010 12:49 pm

    There’s a Korean commenter in the thread about this at MP.net relaying observations of surviving Cheonan (PCC 772) crew members and rescuers on the scene. I’ve corrected a few errors in English to make the following read better.

    1) One-third of the ship was destroyed by the explosion (“military official said that 1/3 of the corvette is damaged/destroyed”).

    2) “The sailors from the ship stated that the ship did not explode itself, and the stern sank very (really) quick; whoever were at the near stern were not able to escape from the ship.”

    3) “Another wounded sailor said that the ship seemed to break in two after the huge explosion. Then the ship started leaning to one side causing people and things to fall into the sea.”

    4) There is a picture of the bow of the corvette still visible above the sea surface from earlier today (Saturday). So, the forward portion of the hull is intact and retains enough buoyancy to remain semi-afloat (perhaps the stern is grounded in the shallow water [20-30 meters] of the site of the sinking). This picture is the one with a South Korean maritime police ship passing it in the foreground.

    The above descriptions of an external explosion and the ship breaking apart cause me to think that maybe it was a mine or torpedo that did this. I’ve also read contradictory claims as to which type of Pohang class corvette this particular vessel was. Yet I’ve seen the picture of a corvette with hull number 772 and it’s one of the ASW variants. If that’s Cheonan (PCC 772), then it is an ASW corvette carrying twelve depth charges. And that brings us back to the possibility of an accident with the depth charges causing an explosion in the stern of the ship.

  15. March 27, 2010 12:49 pm

    Not very good with torpedoes,but insteresting….

  16. Hudson permalink
    March 27, 2010 12:07 pm

    From the same Reuters article Marcase references:

    “The ship fired a warning shot at an unidentified object, and the object was later suspected to have been a flock of birds. But we are checking,” it said.

    “The loud firing sound remained for about 15 minutes, while I watched TV. I never heard such loud firing sound in my entire life staying at (the) island, and the sound was definitely different from those heard from usual drills,” Yonhap news agency quoted one 56-year-old resident on a nearby island as saying.”

    It’s difficult to imagine a trained naval crew firing mistakenly at a flock of birds for 15 minutes.

    Divers should be able to determine if the explosion was internal, with the blast radiating outwards, or external, with the blast pushing inward. When you examine photos of the USS Cole, for example, it’s very evident that the explosion came from outside.

  17. Marcase permalink
    March 27, 2010 4:42 am

    Accident most likely –

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE62P30E20100327

    The water being only 15-20m deep is not the most ideal place to lay mines, will help in recovery and the investigation though.

  18. Chris Stefan permalink
    March 27, 2010 1:51 am

    Interesting Xinhua seems to leave more of an opening for DPRK involvement than the western press:

    The ship “Cheonan” went down off the South Korean island of Baekryeongdo off the west coast around 21:45 p.m. Friday local time (12:45 GMT Friday), with an explosion in the back of the ship, and another South Korean naval vessel fired at an unspecified target toward the north in response.

    http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2010-03/27/c_13226749.htm

    Curious indeed.

  19. nico permalink
    March 27, 2010 1:10 am

    TO Mike Gallagher,

    Sounds like a good theory, not like NK to advertise “oh yeah, by the way, we laid a whole bunch of mines and we aren’t exactly sure where all of the them are, maybe a few might have drifted away, have a nice day”.

    stay safe

  20. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 26, 2010 10:26 pm

    Michael,

    I suppose that you’re seeing all sorts of video and other reports regarding this. Below is the first video that I’ve seen as a follow-up to the incident. Since it’s in Korean I have no idea of what’s being stated and the only thing that I believe that I understand is seeing an injured individual being assisted in crossing a dock.

    I do hope that you have a bug-out bag prepared.

  21. Michael G. Gallagher permalink
    March 26, 2010 9:52 pm

    I’m wondering if it was a Nork accident. Is it possible that the Nork navy planted a minefield north of the Northern Limit Line (NLL)-the maritime version of the DMZ, and that one of the mines broke free and drifted south, where the Cheonan ran into it?

    Anyway, I don’t want things to get too interesting, since I live and work in Seoul myself.

    Mike Gallagher

  22. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 26, 2010 9:44 pm

    A ripple or cascade effect has begun as Taiwan has initiated a security alert following the sinking of the South Korean corvette. I haven’t yet read anything regarding how Japan is reacting to this incident / potential situation.

    TAIWAN NEWS
    Taiwan President Ma activates security mechanism over Korean incident

    Taiwan president calls security alert after Korean clash
    No change yet in Ma’s schedule in Palau
    By Dennis Engbarth in Koror
    Taiwan News, Staff Reporter
    2010-03-27 12:13 AM

    President Ma Ying-jeou ordered Defence Minister Kao Hwa-chu to initiate the national security mechanism to monitor developments in the wake of the sinking of a South Korean patrol boat by a North Korean navy vessel off Baengnyeong Island west of North Korea Friday evening.

    According to news reports, 59 of the 104 officers and staff on the South Korean naval ship had been rescued after the attack which occurred shortly before 11 pm (10 pm Taiwan time), but the reasons for the clash were still unclear.

    After televised reports of the sinking reached Ma, the president called an emergency security meeting with National Security Council Secretary-General Hu Wei-chen and other staff accompanying him on the last evening of a six day series of state visits to Taiwan`s six Pacific allies.

    http://www.etaiwannews.com/etn/news_content.php?id=1213199&lang=eng_news&cate_img=logo_taiwan&cate_rss=TAIWAN_eng

    President Ma activates security mechanism over Korean incident
    2010/03/27 00:06:13
    Koror, Palau, March 26 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou decided late Friday to activate the country’s national security mechanism after North Korea reportedly sank a South Korean naval ship hours earlier.

    Ma, on a tour of Taiwan’s six allies in the South Pacific, also directed Ministry of National Defense Kao Hua-chu by phone to monitor relevant developments and adopt necessary response measures.

    http://focustaiwan.tw/ShowNews/WebNews_Detail.aspx?Type=aALL&ID=201003270001

  23. nico permalink
    March 26, 2010 8:45 pm

    If it was intentional, that probably means NK wants war. If everything stays quite tonight and tomorrow than I guess it was an accident.

  24. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 26, 2010 8:07 pm

    Agreed! Totally fascinating!

  25. March 26, 2010 7:55 pm

    As alarming and seemingly unlikely as one might be, my money say’s it was some type of accident. It wouldn’t make much sense for the North to basically fire the first shot in what would surely be a war at this time and place. Still a fascinating story.

  26. March 26, 2010 5:45 pm

    For a 1200 tons corvette, with a major explosion in the aft part of the ships
    104 crew (58 evacuated….maybe ?46 died ?), I doubt that by 2010, a “accidental” explosion from depth charge begin this disaster…….Much probably a mine or a torpedo
    Waiting some others news from south korea !

  27. March 26, 2010 5:11 pm

    The obvious question are

    What does the North have for wake homing torpedoes?

    How easy would it be for them to release mine-wake-homing -torpedoes beforehand?

    What is available to find and go down and take a look at the hull to help the discovery process?

  28. Marcase permalink
    March 26, 2010 4:32 pm

    News reports are still vague, but do confirm that there was an explosion at the stern.

    As stated, the PCC-772 Cheonan belongs to the ASW-version of the Pohang class, which carry 12 depth charges on the rear-deck.
    If there was either an accident, or a lucky shot, or a mine, most of the stern would’ve been destroyed and the ship would’ve sunk like a lead pipe.

    Hopefully, cool heads will prevail *if* this was an unfortunate accident.
    The Norkors economy rattled the Pyonyang leadership enough as it is, and with access to nukes, things might get really interesting really fast.

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