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South Korea raises sunken naval ship

By the CNN Wire Staff
A giant floating crane lifts the stern of the South Korean warship onto a barge.
A giant floating crane lifts the stern of the South Korean warship onto a barge.
  • Investigators hope wreckage will help solve mystery of ship's sinking
  • Ship broke in two following explosion near maritime border with North Korea
  • At least 25 bodies of 45 missing sailors still believed to be in the hull
  • South Korean media rife with speculation over ship's fate

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- South Korea raised a naval ship from the floor of the Yellow Sea that sank under mysterious circumstances last month, Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Thursday.

The bodies of at least 25 of the 45 missing sailors believed to be in the hull of the navy corvette Cheonan were found in the hours after it was raised, Yonhap reported.

Officials hope the wreckage will provide clues to what caused the ship to break in two after an explosion near the maritime border with North Korea on March 26.

The recovery operation was carried live by South Korean television.

A crane lifted the ship from the water and place it on a barge, where officials began their search for the missing sailors.

The ship will be taken to a naval base for investigation.

Soon after the ship sank, 58 men were rescued.

Video: Sunken ship pulled from water
  • South Korea
  • Far East

But a weeklong search for dozens of missing sailors was called off on April 3 after family members asked the navy to focus on raising the ship.

Naval experts quoted in Korean media had surmised that men trapped underwater could only remain alive for 60 to 70 hours, but many hoped some sailors would still be alive.

One of the navy's most experienced divers died while attempting to enter the wreck in the hours after the ship sank.

Navy Chief Master Sgt. Han Joo-ho, 53, fell unconscious after reportedly exceeding recommended times and depths under water. Two other divers were hospitalized on the same day.

It is unclear whether intense public pressure contributed to the divers taking excessive risks.

Family members of the missing have consistently criticized the navy for what they consider an inadequate response to the disaster.

The media are rife with speculation over what caused the explosion.

One theory is the ship struck a mine left from the Korean War in the 1950s. But South Korea has backed away from casting blame on North Korea.