This is breaking news, so by the time I finish formatting and posting it, the story may have changed completely.
But… as of right now, it appears that North Korea has fired a torpedo at a South Korean naval vessel and sunk it. The ship was patrolling in the Yellow Sea with 104 crew members on board, and some of them were probably killed.
The earliest reports emphasized the likelihood of hostile fire as the cause of the sinking. According to Digital Journal:
South Korean Navy ship believed attacked by North Korea
A South Korean naval vessel is sinking off the Korean Peninsula’s North-South divide and could have been attacked by a North Korean ship. South Korea is investigating the sinking of the ship, with more than 100 sailors aboard.
Seoul, Korea, Republic of — Reuters says many of the sailors aboard are feared dead. The agency quoted South Korean YTN TV network, which said the sinking could be due to a torpedo attack by the North and Korea’s national news agency, Yonhap, said an emergency meeting of cabinet ministers had been called.
The agency also reported that a South Korean navy ship had fired toward an unidentified vessel to the north.
Besides making threatening noises with its rocket armoury, North Korea in recent weeks said it would strengthen its defences to balance US-South Korean military drills earlier in the month.
The BBC says more than 50 sailors have been rescued from the sea near Baengnyeong island by South Korean naval and coast guard ships. The island is in a disputed zone.
Korean Naval Vessel Sinks in Yellow Sea
Notice: no mention of a North Korean attack in the headline, nor in the next two paragraphs:
A South Korean naval ship with a reported 104 crew members aboard sank off a South Korean island in the Yellow Sea near the maritime border with North Korea on Friday evening, prompting an emergency meeting of security-related Cabinet ministers, Yonhap News Agency reported.
There were few details of the mishap, but Yonhap, quoting the navy, said the vessel went down about 9:45 p.m. Friday and that a rescue operation was underway.
Other South Korean media said there were believed to be multiple casualties in the sinking and some suggested the ship may have come under fire from a North Korean vessel.
OK, so they finally mentioned it. But why this new reticence? Maybe it has something to do with this:
But the presidential office was quoted later as saying the chances the North was directly involved was “small.”
President Lee Myung Bak ordered the South Korean military to focus efforts on rescuing sailors from the ship, aides said early Saturday morning, adding it is unclear if North Korea was involved in the incident, Yonhap said.
He convened the emergency meeting of ministers at the underground bunker at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae immediately after reports arrived that the 1,200-ton naval ship was sinking near the western sea border with North Korea, Yonhap said.
“For now, it is not certain whether North Korea is related” to the incident, presidential office spokeswoman Kim Eun Hye was quoted as saying. “President Lee ordered the military to do its best to rescue the (sailors).”
However, it seems that not all of the South Korean naval commanders have received the word from on high:
Yonhap said South Korean naval officials refused to give details about the incident, but they did say a South Korean vessel fired at what was believed be an unidentified ship toward North Korea later in the evening, “indicating possibilities” of a torpedo attack from the North.
Local residents in the area were quoted by the South Korean news agency as having heard gunfire for about 10 minutes from about 11 p.m.
And birds may be the culprits:
But YTN television said analysis by the South Korean military of radar images in the area indicated the firing may have been toward a flock of birds rather than at a suspicious ship.
So what’s going on? Here’s my inexpert and ill-informed analysis:
The North Koreans habitually do nasty threatening things just before returning to the negotiating table, in order to leverage more concessions out of Uncle Sucker with their scary belligerence. Sensing a weak reed in the White House, they have upped the ante this time, saying, in effect, “OK, Mr. Big Man Hussein — whaddaya gonna do about this one, hey?”
For South Korea, everything hinges on the reaction of the United States. In a conventional attack, according to war game results, North Korea could overrun Seoul before the South could fully mobilize. This is due to the proximity of the capital to the DMZ, and is true even with the participation of some or all of the 40,000 American troops in South Korea.
If the United States does not react to a provocation by threatening an overwhelming air response, nuclear or otherwise, South Korea faces a major military disaster.
Presumably Seoul knows the same thing that Pyongyang knows: Obama is a weakling and a coward, and is likely to equivocate and waffle and grope for dialogue rather than act decisively. His most forceful response would probably be to take it to the UN Security Council and demand a strongly-worded resolution.
If the South Koreans were to acknowledge that the North was behind the sinking, then they would be obliged to retaliate. After that they would probably find themselves in, shall we say, a spot of bother.
So they’re lying low and waiting to see which way the O-wind blows.
All of the information included above was dredged from my memory and has not been verified by any googling. People who really know what they’re talking about are welcome to correct my mistakes in the comments.
Hat tip for the Breitbart article: KGS.