March 27, 2010 in Nation/World

S. Korea naval vessel sinks, kindling panic

Jean H. Lee Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Family members of South Korean naval crews weep as they wait to board a ship in Incheon today.
(Full-size photo)

SEOUL, South Korea – Word that a South Korean naval ship sank in the tense waters around the disputed maritime border with communist North Korea set off panic: The president convened an emergency meeting and the military dispatched a fleet of ships.

Five hours later, 58 sailors had been pulled to safety but some 40 others were missing, reports said. There was no indication early today that North Korea was to blame for the ship’s demise, but troops kept a vigilant watch.

Seoul’s panic attack – hours after North Korea’s military threatened “unpredictable strikes” against the U.S. and South Korea – highlighted the fragility of peace on the divided Korean peninsula.

The 1,200-ton Cheonan was on a routine patrolling mission near South Korea’s Baeknyeong Island on Friday night with 104 crew members on board when the ship began taking on water, Rear Adm. Lee Ki-sik of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters.

Unidentified military officials told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that an explosion tore a hole into the rear hull, shutting off the engine, wiping out the power and quickly taking the ship down.

Six naval ships and two coast guard vessels, as well as helicopters and ambulances, rushed to save the crew, Yonhap and military officials said.

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