Speculations have been rampant as to the cause of the sinking of a South Korean naval ship in waters near the disputed Yellow Sea border with North Korea on Friday night.
South Korean officials remain cautious, saying the exact cause of the explosion that sunk the 1,200-ton vessel can be determined after the sunken ship is salvaged. The salvage process may take at least 20 days, military officials say, noting that it took 17 days to salvage a 130-ton vessel struck in a surprise attack by North Korea in 2002.
After visiting the disaster site Saturday, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told reporters that the government is "yet to track down the exact cause behind the tragedy," adding that making predictions is "meaningless in this situation."
The official explanation that has been made so far by the military is that an unidentified explosion punctured a hole in the rear bottom of the vessel, shutting off the engine and taking the ship down in less than three hours.
The slow work on finding the cause of the tragedy that left 46 of the ship's 104 sailors still missing, however, has stirred a wide range of speculation as to what caused the vessel to sink.
Experts speculate on largely three possible causes for the explosion -- an explosion within the ship due to internal defects or malfunctioning, accidental collision with a reef or other objects, or an attack from an outside force including the North Korean navy.
"Personally, I think the possibility of an internal defect or malfunctioning is very low," said Kim Tae-woo, vice president of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
"I have never heard of any navy vessel explode by itself so far, although it is too early to make presumptions when the government is still looking into possible causes."
Should it be an internal explosion, former cre
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