Cheonan 1 year later: enduring doubts and unyielding posture

Posted on : 2011-03-25 14:59 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
As the Lee administration released a white paper, scientists continued to question the evidence presented by the JIG
 Mar. 24. (Photo by Rhee Jong-chan)
Mar. 24. (Photo by Rhee Jong-chan)

By Kwon Hyuk-chul, Staff Writer

“The investigation findings stating that the Cheonan sank due to a CHT-02D torpedo fired by North Korea are a patently confirmed truth, and it is unfortunate that there are some people who are unable to believe this truth.” This has frequent statement from military authorities has continued recently as the one-year anniversary of the sinking of the Cheonan approaches.

The “conclusive evidence” for the North Korean torpedo strike explanation consists of a propeller fragment from a CHT-02D that was fished out of the waters near the site of the sinking by a pair trawler on May 15 of last year. The Joint Investigative Group (JIG) announced officially that an adhesive substance discovered on the hull of the Cheonan had the same ingredients as another adhesive substance found on the torpedo’s propulsion device, providing that the salvaged torpedo was the same one that struck the Cheonan.

The logic was equivalent to saying in a murder case that a knife (torpedo) was found near the victim (the Cheonan), and that because blood (adhesive substance) on the knife was the same as that on the victim (the adhesive substance on the Cheonan’s hull), this meant that the knife’s owner (North Korea) was the killer.

The JIG announced that the substance on the torpedo fragment was amorphous aluminum oxide, a by-product of explosions. The explanation was that the substance was created through the high heat and pressure conditions that arose with the detonation of the explosives within the torpedo, which had aluminum mixed in.

But the adhesive substance, the only physical evidence connecting the Cheonan with the torpedo, was faced with crucial doubts. Seunghun Lee, a professor in the department of physics at the University of Virginia in the United States, and other scientists say that independent experiments and analysis of the JIG data showed the substance to be aluminum hydroxide, which may appear due to corrosion under natural conditions unconnected with explosions.

Jeong Gi-yong, professor of Earth and Environmental Science at Andong National University, and Panseok Yang, manager of the Department of Geological Sciences LA-ICP-MS Laboratory at Canada’s University of Manitoba, analyzed samples of the substance and produced the opinion that it was natural precipitate rather than something created in an explosion.

To return to the murder case analogy, their argument is that because there is no way of being sure that a certain fluid (adhesive substance) found on the knife discovered near the victim is actually the victim’s blood and not an unrelated substance like ketchup, it is impossible to conclude that the victim died (sank) from the stabbing (torpedo strike).

In response to the questions raised about the substance by various scientists, the Ministry of National Defense has been dismissive without presenting any specific refutation, arguing only that Lee’s claims “stemmed from a difference in experiment and experimental conditionals from the JIG.”

Questions also remain as to whether the right culprit was fingered. As evidence that the salvaged fragment came from a North Korean torpedo, the Ministry of National Defense cited materials and a CD on torpedoes distributed by North Korea with the goal of exportation, but it has not disclosed the originals to the press, citing military secrecy.

While the ministry announced that a North Korean Yono submersible made a C-turn and crossed over the Northern Limit Line to fire the torpedo at the Cheonan, it has provided no further explanation about the route of infiltration except that it is “presumed in light of several circumstantial factors.” In the murder case scenario, this would be like saying that it is impossible to disclose data to prove the ownership of the knife used for the crime, and that there is no way of knowing how the culprit accessed the crime scene.

Meanwhile, the Lee Myung-bak administration announced Thursday that the May 20 announcement of the JIG findings just before last year’s June 2 local elections presented the potential for being misunderstood as politically motivated. The day coincided with the official launch of the local election campaign season. This assessment was made in the concluding remarks of a 309-page white paper on the Cheonan sinking published to mark the one-year anniversary of the incident. The same section included reference to seven “important tasks demanding profound reflection and introspection.”

The white paper also separately noted that confidence in the overall investigation was diminished through the mistaken presentation of a full-scale rendering of the torpedo while the JIG was explaining about the torpedo that attacked the Cheonan during its announcement, and that there was a failure to respond in detail to the questions that were raised.


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