March 30, 2010 in Nation/World

S. Korea on military alert

Divers preparing to break into sunken ship today
Jean H. Lee Associated Press
Associated Press photo

South Korean marines search for survivors from a sunken navy ship near South Korea’s Baengnyeong Island on Monday.
(Full-size photo)

SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s president ordered the military on alert today 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.

The blast ripped the 1,200-ton ship apart last Friday night during a routine patrol mission near Baengnyeong Island, along the tense maritime border west of the Korean peninsula. Fifty-eight crew members, including the captain, were plucked to safety; 46 remain missing with dim prospects for finding any further survivors.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the exact cause was unclear, and U.S. and South Korean officials said there was no outward indication of North Korean involvement.

However, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told lawmakers Monday that a floating mine dispatched from North Korea was one of several scenarios for the disaster. “Neither the government nor the defense ministry has ever said there was no possibility of North Korea’s involvement,” Kim said.

Hampered by rough waves, divers finally reached the ship’s rear segment, where most of the missing were believed trapped, and pumped oxygen into cracks in the stern on Monday, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They hammered on the hull but got no response.

Military divers were gearing up to break into the ship today, Rear Adm. Lee Ki-sik told reporters.

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