S.Korea warship sunk by 'strong impact'

SEOUL, April 24, 2010 (AFP) - First inspections of the bow of a South Korean warship show it was hit by an outside impact of considerable force, a military official said Saturday.

The Cheonan sank and was split in half after a mystery blast on March 26 close to the disputed border of the two Koreas, leaving 40 sailors confirmed dead and six others still unaccounted for.

Seoul has been careful not to point the finger directly at the North over the incident in the Yellow Sea, which has stoked already tense ties, and Pyongyang has denied it was to blame.

On Saturday salvage teams took their first look at the bow section after it was hauled to the surface a day earlier, finding another body and more evidence a strong external blast was to blame.

Quoting an unidentified military official, Yonhap said initial inspections confirmed a large iron gate was off its hinges and a chimney was missing.

"This means there was a strong impact from the outside," the official said.

A Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman told AFP that they expected to find more bodies in the bow, which was to be towed ashore later Saturday for detailed inspections to find extra clues as to what tore the vessel apart.

The stern was salvaged on April 15 but offered few ideas as to what had caused the explosion, from which 58 sailors were rescued.

Pyongyang has accused the South's "war maniacs" of seeking to shift the blame for the tragedy to the North.

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