By Na Jeong-ju
President Lee Myung-bak made it clear Monday that it was risky to speculate over what caused the frigate Cheonan to sink on March 26 until the military secures hard evidence.
"I believe accuracy is more important than speed in determining the cause of this kind of disaster," Lee said in a biweekly address broadcast through KBS1 Radio and the global online video site YouTube.
"We should wait patiently, although it will be painful, as a joint investigation team from the government, military and civilians is already looking into the case."
His remarks were the latest in a series of calls for the nation not to jump to conclusions regarding the exact cause of the tragedy with a fact-finding mission already underway.
The U.S. has said it has no evidence showing North Korea's involvement, but some local media have raised speculation that a torpedo from a North Korean midget submarine or a mine laid by the communist state could have hit the patrol ship.
Some experts have also alleged that the ship, built in 1989 by a now-defunct South Korean shipbuilder, was too old and seriously damaged to conduct a mission and needed repairs. Some family members of the missing sailors said they had heard about water leakages in the ship many times before.
President Lee reiterated that the probe is not just a domestic issue, but a matter related to the country's international credibility.
"We have to find the cause in a way that satisfies not only our people but also the international community," said the President.
Of the Cheonan's 104 crew, 58 were rescued as it sank, including the captain. On Saturday, the body of a 35-year-old sailor was discovered in the stern of the sunken ship.
The other 45 crewmembers remain listed as missing, but search efforts were called off Saturday at the request of their families after a rescue diver died in the rescue mission and a fishing boat helping with the operation sank after colliding with a Cambodian-registered freighter.
Recalling his visit last week to the scene of the ship's sinking, about 1.8 km southwest of the country's northernmost island of Baengnyeong, Lee said the country should be grateful to those who have sacrificed themselves to defend the country.
"When I heard the desperate appeals from the families of the missing soldiers, I wished I could plunge into the water to save them myself," Lee said.
Despite the island being located within the range of North Korean artillery fire, Lee decided to visit to encourage soldiers and maritime officers participating in the operation. It was the first trip by a President to Baengnyeong Island.