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(LEAD) S. Korea releases full report on ship sinking, reaffirming N. Korea's responsibility

All Headlines 14:10 September 13, 2010

(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 9-13, remaining questions in paras 19-23)
By Kim Deok-hyun

SEOUL, Sept. 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korea released on Monday the full results of a multinational investigation into the March sinking of a warship, reaffirming that it was sunk in a North Korean torpedo attack and providing more details that officials hope will quell doubts and questions leveled at interim probe results.

The 1,200-ton patrol ship Cheonan sank near the tense inter-Korean border on the night of March 26, killing 46 sailors aboard. The other 58 were rescued.

A Seoul-led multinational team of investigators concluded in May that the vessel was sunk from the underwater explosion of a torpedo fired by a midget North Korean submarine that sneaked into South Korean waters. Investigators presented as evidence the propulsion device of the torpedo retrieved from the site of the sinking, marked with "No. 1" written in North Korean-style characters.

The team also said the recovered torpedo parts point to a model shown in North Korea's pamphlet of its weapons.

The full report contained some more details, including those on the explosion, to explain how the 73 investigators from South Korea, the United States, Britain, Australia and Sweden reached their outcome.

"The detonation location was 3 meters to the port from the center of the gas turbine room and at a depth of 6 to 9 meters," it said. "The weapon system used was a CHT-02D torpedo with approximately 250 kilograms of explosives manufactured by North Korea."

The book-length document also included communication records between the Cheonan's surviving captain, Cdr. Choi Won-il, and his immediate boss, Squadron Commander Capt. Lee Won-bo, at the time of the sinking.

Minutes after the attack, Choi reported to Lee, saying, "I think we've been hit by something." Lee asked, "What do you think it is?" and Choi replied, "I think it's a torpedo."

The final report also gave details of testimonies by the survivors, describing how the external explosion interrupted the Cheonan's routine patrol.

"The survivors said they heard the sound of an explosion, followed by a power outage. Then, their bodies were lifted up 30 centimeters to 1 meter in the air before falling toward the starboard side of the ship," it said.

"Forty-one survivors said that they smelled oil, but there were no witnesses of flames, fire or a water column, nor were there any injuries from these factors," the full report said, adding most of the survivors suffered bruises, fractures and sprains.

Such accounts sufficiently substantiated that the ship was sunk and destroyed by a powerful shockwave from a non-contact torpedo explosion, called a "bubble effect," said Shin Young-shik, a professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and one of the civilian investigators.

"Considering all the observations above, these are consistent with the bubble effect phenomenon," Shin said.

The full report was published in a 289-page volume in Korean and a 313-page one in English.

"We hope that this report will serve as the basis for accurately understanding the truth regarding the sinking of the Cheonan," said Yoon Duk-yong, co-chairman of the joint international investigation team.

"We are confident that it will contribute to the understanding that the security awareness of the people of the Republic of Korea and the security issues that we face cannot be compromised by any personal and group interests," Yoon said, referring to South Korea by its official name.

Some U.S.-based South Korean scientists had raised questions over the integrity of the investigative team's findings, claiming the probe had a number of flaws.

In June, one of the most influential civic groups in South Korea, People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, submitted its own report on the sinking to the U.N. Security Council, questioning the reliability of the multinational investigation.

Although the investigators hoped that the final report would resolve unnecessary misunderstandings and suspicions over the details of the sinking, some questions still remained.

Critics have doubted why no explosive material was found on the propulsion part of the torpedo retrieved from the site of the sinking, when it was found in the ship's wreckage.

Yoon suggested that the investigation team had failed to detect the explosive material on the propulsion part because it was too small to absorb such material.

Also, the investigation team failed to identify whether the ink used in the "No. 1" mark was North Korean.

"Since many countries use the same type of ingredients to produce the ink, the joint investigation team was unable to identify the country in which it was produced," the report said.

North Korea denies any involvement in the sinking, calling the probe results a "sheer fabrication" by the Seoul government.

"This report is significant because it lets North Korea and the international community know that even the most covert attack leaves evidence," Yoon told reporters.

"It especially sends a solemn warning to North Korea not to engage in any further military provocations," he said.

The defense ministry said it will distribute the full report to the National Assembly, government agencies, foreign embassies, academic groups and research institutions at home and overseas. The full report will be also accessible on the ministry's Web site and put on sale to the public, it said.

kdh@yna.co.kr
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