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SEOUL, South Korea — U.S. Navy dive teams have begun searching for debris from the wreckage of a South Korean patrol ship that sank last month.

The 1,200-ton Cheonan sank near the maritime border with North Korea on March 26 after an explosion tore the ship in two. The divers were looking for debris scattered between the bow and stern of the ship, located about four miles apart, Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Denver Applehans said.

Members of a 16-person U.S. salvage and rescue team from Hawaii and a six-person underwater explosive ordinance disposal team from Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, conducted dives on both Wednesday and Thursday, he said.

Applehans described their mission as both salvage and investigative work, and said the teams were expected to continue diving as the search progresses but those decisions would be made "day by day."

A spokesman from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the U.S. divers are looking in the area where fragments of the middle of the ship — where the explosion occurred — are expected to be found.

The U.S. has pledged to send a team of investigators to analyze those pieces and help determine the cause of the explosion. The JCS spokesman said the U.S. investigators have more experience than their South Korean counterparts and would enhance the transparency and objectivity of the probe.

Emotions among South Koreans about the mysterious cause of the blast and Seoul’s military response to the incident have been running high. Media and some government officials have speculated causes ranging from a North Korean mine to a torpedo, although U.S. and South Korean military officials have said there has been no indication or evidence the North was involved.

Fifty-eight members of the Cheonan’s crew were rescued shortly after the blast. One body was found last week, and 45 sailors remain listed as missing.

Along with 15 South Korean ships, three U.S. Navy ships are at the wreckage site: the Hawaii-based USNS Salvor, a salvage and rescue ship; the dock landing ship USS Harper’s Ferry from Sasebo; and guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur, from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.


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