March 29th, 2010
07:01 AM ET

Divers finding no signs of life near S. Korean sunken ship

Divers have been hammering on the hulls of the front and rear sections of a sunken South Korean navy ship, but no signs of life have been detected, military officials said Monday.

And the country's defense minister said it is possible that the explosion  that caused the 1,200-ton patrol ship Cheonan to capsize could have been caused by an old mine.

The Cheonan was carrying 104 sailors when an apparent explosion caused it to capsize Friday night in the Yellow Sea near a disputed maritime border between the Koreas. Fifty-eight sailors have been rescued, but hopes were fading for finding the remaining 46. No bodies or survivors have been found in the sea.

No cause has been determined for the ship's sinking, although the Yonhap News Agency quoted military officials as saying that an unidentified explosion tore a hole in the ship's rear, shutting off the engine.

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told a meeting of the parliamentary defense committee Monday that one of the many North Korean sea mines placed during the 1950-53 Korean War could have caused the blast.

"It is possible that a North Korean sea mine could have drifted into our area," Kim said, according to Yonhap. He said North Korea brought in about 4,000 sea mines from the Soviet Union during the war and placed about 3,000 of them in the Yellow Sea and the East Sea.

"Though many sea mines were removed, it must have been impossible to retrieve them 100 percent," Kim said. "One (North Korean sea mine) was found in 1959, and another was removed in 1984."

Citing accounts of rescued sailors who handled the ship's radar, Kim said there were no signs of a torpedo attack ahead of the explosion.
The navy plans to salvage the vessel to determine what caused the incident, Yonhap reported. It was carrying missiles and torpedoes, navy officials said.

President Lee Myung-bak called for a thorough investigation into the cause of the explosion. Presidential spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye said Lee ordered the military to use "all the manpower and equipment available to conduct a search operation as fast as possible," and said that rescuers "should not give up hope of more survivors."

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