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Dozens of South Korean sailors missing after navy ship explosion

Angry relatives of 46 crew members missing after a mysterious explosion sank a South Korean navy ship sailed around the site yesterday as rescue teams took to the air and sea still hoping to find survivors.

None has been found since an initial rescue of 58 sailors from the 1,200-ton Cheonan that sank early on Saturday near the tense border with North Korea.

The ship was on a routine patrol with other vessels in the Yellow Sea off South Korea's west coast.

The exact cause of the explosion remained unclear and officials said it could take weeks to determine.

It is one of South Korea's worst naval disasters. In 1974, a ship sank off the south-east coast in stormy weather, killing 159 sailors and coast guard personnel. In 1967, 39 sailors were killed by North Korean artillery.

Fierce waves and high winds have hampered the search in the area where the two Koreas have fought bloody naval engagements. Despite the location of the sinking, North Korea did not appear to be involved.

“We have detected 'no special movements' by North Korean forces; however, we, as a command, continue to monitor the situation and remain prepared for any contingency,” General Walter Sharp, chief of the 28,500 US troops in South Korea, said in a statement yesterday.

South Korean troops were maintaining “solid military readiness”, the Defence Ministry said.

It also said a US military ship would join rescue operations Monday.

The Cheonan sank about a mile from Baengnyeong Island, which is about 10 miles from North Korea. The Koreas remain in a state of war because their three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953.

The explosion tore open the rear hull of the Cheonan, shut down its engine, wiped out power and caused the ship to sink a little over three hours later.

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