Page last updated at 20:28 GMT, Saturday, 3 April 2010 21:28 UK

S Korea calls off rescue for missing sailors

South Korean military rescue teams
Hopes have faded for sailors who went down with the corvette

South Korea has called off a rescue operation for more than 40 sailors missing since a warship sank last week.

A navy spokesman said the operation will now focus on salvaging the wreck, Yonhap news agency reported.

Earlier, the South Korean military said that it had recovered the body of one of the crew.

The corvette Cheonan exploded and sank in unexplained circumstances off Baengnyeong Island, near the disputed maritime border with North Korea.

Families of the lost sailors asked the military to suspend the operation for fear of additional casualties, Yonhap reported.

"We called off a rescue operation... at 11pm [1400 GMT Saturday] following the request from the relatives," the navy spokesman said.

"From Sunday we will focus on salvaging the wreckage."

Rescue teams had hoped survivors could have been trapped in watertight sections of the vessel.

Officials have said the salvage effort could last a month.

Rescuers lost

A total of 58 people were rescued from the bow of the ship soon after it started sinking but efforts to find the missing 46 have been hampered by bad weather and strong currents.

In a subsequent tragedy, one person has died and eight others are missing after a fishing boat taking part in the search sank late on Friday, officials said.


One report said the boat appeared to have collided with a freighter.

Last week a navy diver died while taking part in the rescue operation.

The South Korean press is full of speculation about the possible causes of the explosion that sunk the Cheonan, says the BBC's John Sudworth in Seoul.

Theories include a deliberate attack by North Korea - a possibility not yet ruled out by the South.

On Friday, South Korea's defence minister renewed speculation that a torpedo could have caused the blast that sank the ship.

Kim Tae-young, who had previously said a sea mine could have caused the blast, called it a "likely possibility" the Cheonan had been hit by a torpedo.

Shortly after the sinking, Seoul said it did not believe North Korea had fired on the ship.

Pyongyang has made no official comment about the incident.

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