Tuesday, March 30, 2010

ROKS Cheonan Summary

A South Korean naval vessel cruising the Yellow Sea near the NLL (Northern Limit Line), the sea boundary with North Korea, exploded and sank under mysterious circumstances last Friday night around 9:30, taking 46 crewmen with it.

But for the rest of the ROK, life goes on. The next day was the KBO's opening day, and all games proceeded as normal, without even, near as I could tell, a moment of silence or remembrance of any kind for the missing sailors. (Though perhaps the charye table I photographed was for them.)

In part, Southerners' equanimity may be due to the fact that the cause of the blast which sunk the ship is unknown, and according to a Dong-A Ilbo story could forever remain a mystery. But it is also because this kind of thing is old hat to them. Even if it turns out DPRK military was somehow involved, very little will happen as a result.

Right now, speculation tying the North to the sinking centers mainly on two possibilities: left-over mines in the area from the 1950-1953 action; or "two-manned torpedoes":
North Korea has two-manned torpedoes, citing "former North Korean navy men who defected" to the South.
The two-manned submarines are fitted with two torpedoes or a mine and move underwater at a pace slower than two kilometers per hour to avoid detection.

Still, while NK is quite often sneaky and underhanded, their aggression up near the NLL and Baeknyeong Island has usually been quite open--why, as recently as January, one of their ships spent the better part of the day firing rounds into the empty ocean. More serious skirmishes, even deadly ones, occured in the area in 2009, 2002 and 1999.

The ROKS Cheonan, commissioned in 1989, was a Pohang-class corvette cruiser with a crew of 104, a maximum speed of 32 knots, combined diesel or gas propulsion, and a displacement of 1200 tonnes. It spent most of its time patrolling the waters of the Yellow Sea, or the West Sea as it is called here, and was considerably off its usual course when the blast occured. This may be because it was trying to avoid high waves and rough waters that evening.

Of course, March and April marks the Foal Eagle/Key Resolve joint training excercise, so 22 vessels were speedily on hand to assist in the rescue and salvage efforts. Alas, no survivors beyond the 58 crew rescued at the time of sinking have been found. A diver was killed earlier today during rescue attempts, as well.

Graphic from Korea Times, www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2010/03/117_63227.html


Anonymous said...

From a Korean:

The reason why there was not a moment of silence for the sailors during the game was that we Koreans as a collective do not, nay, cannot YET recognize/believe that the sailors have perished. Against all odds, we Koreans are all holding onto a bare thread of hope that they are all still alive, waiting for rescue. If worst comes to worst...and self-denial is no longer possible, expect mourning on a national scale.

Anonymous said...

Listen/read the Korean media. Try talking in Korean to your co-workers how they feel about this tragedy. The entire nation is grieved by this - we are all just putting on a brave face - because, after all, "life has to go on".

Tuttle said...

Dear Anon, thanks for your comments. It was not my intent to suggest that no one feels grief in this event, but that rather, as you yourself put it, "we are all just putting on a brave face" having gone through it so many times before.