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36 bodies found as stern of sunken South Korean warship is raised

As tearful families looked on, the South Korean military recovered the bodies of 36 crewmen from the stern of a sunken warship raised Thursday from the floor of the Yellow Sea.

The naval corvette Cheonan sank March 26 after a mysterious explosion broke the 1,200-ton vessel in half.

Throughout the day, South Korean television carried live coverage of a towering crane that lifted part of the ship to the surface. Late Thursday, the South Korean Defense Ministry confirmed that salvagers had recovered the bodies of 36 of the 44 sailors who were still missing weeks after the nighttime disaster.

The cause of the explosion has not been determined, but many here suspect that the Cheonan was hit by a North Korean torpedo as it patrolled the disputed sea border between the North and South.

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President Lee Myung-bak has come under criticism for not pressing the issue with North Korea, which has denied involvement, according to press reports.

Bad weather and turbulent seas have hampered the recovery effort, which itself has been beset by tragedy. A navy diver died while trying to drill a hole in the hull, and a fishing boat assisting in the effort sank after a collision. Two fishermen died and seven are missing.

Divers earlier had recovered the bodies of two Cheonan crewmen. In all, 130 experts from several countries have helped in the recovery effort.

As the crane began hoisting parts of the ship’s stern Thursday morning, naval officials held a memorial service for the missing sailors. The mournful moan of a horn sounded for 15 seconds.

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The Yonhap news agency reported that several bodies were found when salvage workers entered the ship’s stern to install water pumps after the crane raised it out of the water.

Lee Jung-guk, head of a committee of relatives of the missing, said the families did not expect all of the remains to be recovered.

“I am sure that divers cannot find anything under the sea 100%,” he said. “The only thing that we prioritize is the return of our fallen soldiers. Then we will schedule our next plan.”

john.glionna@latimes.com

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Park is a researcher in The Times’ Seoul Bureau.


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