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SEOUL — Two U.S. ships have left the site where a South Korean patrol ship exploded and sank last month as efforts to recover pieces of the ship wind down.

The Hawaii-based USNS Salvor remains in the Yellow Sea to assist in the search for debris from the Cheonan. A 16-member U.S. salvage-and-rescue team and a six-person underwater explosive ordnance disposal team are continuing their work in the four-mile area between where the Cheonan’s stern and bow sank March 26, said U.S. Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Pamela Bou.

A crane lifted the stern last week, and the bodies of most of the 46 missing crewmembers were found inside it. Eight crewmembers remain missing, and investigators say an external explosion likely caused the ship to sink. The bow may be lifted as early as this week.

Rear Adm. Pete Gumataotao, commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Korea, assumed duties Saturday as the officer in tactical command of U.S. naval forces involved in the effort. The previous on-scene commander was based on the dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry, from Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, which left Monday.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, left Saturday, Bou said.


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