Mar 26, 2010 1:06 PM by Melissa Canone
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - South Korea's military scrambled naval
vessels to the western waters near the disputed maritime border
with rival North Korea late Friday after an explosion ripped a hole
in the bottom of a military ship, officials and news reports said.
The ship, on a routine patrolling mission with 104 crew members
on board, began sinking off the coast of South Korean-controlled
Baengnyeong Island close to North Korea around 9:45 p.m. (1245 GMT,
9:45 a.m. EDT), an official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff said,
speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department policy.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported an explosion in the
rear of the 1,200-ton ship and said the military had not ruled out
the possibility of an attack by North Korea. However, the military
official said the exact cause was not immediately clear and said he
could not confirm the Yonhap report.
A rescue mission was under way and the military moved to
strengthen its vigilance near the maritime border, the site of
three bloody naval clashes in the past between the warring Koreas.
The divided peninsula remains in a state of war because the
three-year Korean conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in
Earlier Friday, North Korea's military threatened
"unpredictable strikes," including a nuclear attack, in anger
over a report that South Korea and the U.S. were preparing for
possible instability in the totalitarian country.
After the ship began sinking, President Lee Myung-bak convened
an emergency meeting of security-related ministers, Yonhap said,
citing presidential spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye. She said it wasn't
clear yet whether North Korea was involved in the ship's demise.
Six naval ships and two coast guard vessels were rushed to the
waters to save the crew, Yonhap said. Rescue helicopters and
ambulances also sped to the scene, the military official said. By
12:30 a.m. Saturday (1430 GMT, 10:30 a.m. EDT Friday), with the
ship nearly submerged, 58 of the soldiers had been rescued, the
official said. There were no immediate confirmation of any
Yonhap reported earlier that a South Korean ship fired shots
toward an unidentified target in the direction of North Korea. The
military official confirmed that shots were fired but said the
object detected by radar may have been a flock of birds.
Baeknyeong Island, four hours' by boat from the port of Incheon,
is the westernmost point of South Korea and is a key military post
for South Korea because of its proximity to the North.