The Cheonan Incident

 As the accusations mount and the rhetoric from both sides increases following the sinking of the South Korean Pohang-class corvette ROKS Cheonan (PCC-772), two key documents have been released by South Korean authorities.

The first document is the report by the Joint Civilian-Military Investigation Group into the sinking of Cheonan.  You can find the report here.

The second is a set of briefing slides used to brief the Minister of National Defence for South Korea, Mr. Tae Young Kim.  You can find the slides here.

Both documents are dated 20 May 2010.

The sinking of Cheonan is the latest in a long history of naval incidents between North and South Korea. Unlike the situation on land, which is clearly marked by zones of demarcation, the maritime demarcation line (the Northern Limit Line) has never been agreed to by North Korea.  The position of the North Koreans is that the line was unilaterally imposed by the ‘aggressors’.  The overwhelming naval capabilities of the UN forces during the Korean War meant that the offshore zone was exploited to maximum advantage, with islands presenting relatively easy targets for occupation and control.  A number of islands are included in the disputed area, most of which are occupied by South Korea.

Yeonpyoneg Island, which is located 12 km off the North Korean mainland and 80 km west of the northernmost mainland of South Korea, has been the scene of two previous encounters between North and South Korean naval forces (1999 & 2002).  Cheonan, which was launched in 1989, was involved in the 1999 incident and sustained minor damage in that engagement.

Cheonan was sunk on 26 March 1.9 km southwest of Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea.  Baengnyeong Island (also spelled Baekryong) is the westernmost extent of South Korea and it too is located 12 km off the North Korean mainland, Cape Jangsan being clearly visible in fair weather.