US Navy officials say a salvage ship and three other American vessels, including a guided missile cruiser and two destroyers, are on hand to help South Korea. The American vessels were in the area already as part of a regional naval exercise with the Koreans called Foal Eagle, says Capt. Jeff Breslau of US Pacific Fleet.
Why the South Korean ship sank remains a mystery. Initial concerns were that North Korea may have struck the ship with a torpedo as the ship steamed through contested waters between North and South Korea. But South Korean officials have since taken care to say there is no indication that North Korea played a role. Media reports over the weekend suggested that the ship may have hit an underwater mine, perhaps one left over from decades ago.
For now, the operation remains a salvage and rescue effort, though hopes of saving additional sailors are dimming. South Korean officials have said that about 58 sailors were rescued Friday, leaving almost as many of the crew unaccounted for. The USNS Salvor, a salvage ship, arrived late Sunday with 16 Navy divers.
“They are there to participate with search, recovery, and salvage,” said Breslau.
The other US ships, a cruiser and two destroyers, are there for command-and-control operations or are on standby as the Republic of Korea leads the recovery effort. The group of American vessels has at least three SH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters for search and rescue, says Breslau.