Front Half of Cheonan to Be Raised Today
By Lee Tae-hoon
The Navy and a civilian salvage team made final preparations Friday to raise the bow and midsection of the ill-fated frigate Cheonan that sank last month in the West Sea after an unidentified explosion.
Part of the ship's bow emerged from the sea as a giant crane raised it to the surface to maneuver the wreckage into an upright position before commencing the final lift, which is expected to start Saturday if weather conditions permit it.
Most of the bisected body, except the mast, appeared to be intact, including a 76mm gun and glass in the ship's bridge.
Meanwhile, ruling and opposition parties agreed to launch a National Assembly fact-finding committee to investigate the tragic sinking.
Floor leaders of both said the probe will be carried out over two months upon parliamentary approval, but could be extended for another month, if necessary.
A bill on the establishment of a bipartisan panel will be put to a floor vote in an Assembly plenary session Wednesday, they said.
The joint panel will be composed of 20 lawmakers ― 10 from the ruling Grand National Party (GNP), eight from the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), and two from other minor parties. A GNP lawmaker is expected to chair the committee.
It has been almost a month since the frigate with a crew of 104 sank after the mysterious blast, but the exact cause of its sinking has yet to be determined.
As of Friday, 58 crewmembers had been rescued and 39 confirmed dead with seven others remaining listed as missing, following Thursday's recovery of another sailor's body in the ship's funnel that had broken off from the main wreckage.
The ship's stern, containing the bodies of 38 sailors trapped inside, was pulled from the water last week.
Military experts and inspectors at the scene claim that an ``external explosion'' ― possibly from a torpedo fired by a submarine ― was the likely cause of the incident, heightening speculation that North Korea was behind the naval disaster.
Pyongyang, however, has denied any link to the incident, labeling such allegations as fabrications made by ``traitors'' in the South.
The Cheonan sank on March 26 near the disputed maritime border with the North, where the two Koreas fought bloody skirmishes in 1999, 2002 and last November.
In an effort to improve transparency, the government has invited specialists from the United States, Australia, Sweden and Britain for a joint investigation into the cause of the sinking.