(LEAD) Serial number found on torpedo fragments collected from sunken ship site
SEOUL, May 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has found a serial number marked on torpedo propeller fragments collected from the scene where one of its naval ships sank, officials said Wednesday, the latest piece of evidence that North Korea attacked the vessel.
The number was written in a font used in North Korea, and investigators have concluded that the 1,200-ton patrol ship Cheonan came under a North Korean torpedo attack near the Yellow Sea border on March 26 before breaking in half and sinking, officials said.
Foreign experts from the United States, Britain and Australia working as part of an international team looking into the sinking have also agreed to the assessment that a torpedo attack sank the Cheonan, officials said.
The defense ministry, however, denied a media report that a Korean word was also written on the propeller pieces.
South Korea plans to officially announce the investigation's outcome on Thursday. The announcement is expected to include the result of a computer simulation that a heavy, acoustic homing torpedo with a warhead weighing about 250 kilograms struck the Cheonan.
Investigators have also found that traces of explosives found in the Cheonan's wreckage were identical in composition to propellant explosives contained in a stray North Korean torpedo that South Korea recovered from the southern coast seven years ago.
It has been no secret that South Korean officials believe the North is responsible for the disaster that killed 46 sailors, though they have refrained from openly blaming the North until the investigation is complete.
After an initial examination of the Cheonan's wreckage, investigators had said the vessel was most likely struck by an underwater "non-contact" explosion, possibly from a torpedo or a sea mine.
North Korea has denied any involvement.
South Korea has been trying to drum up international support for its plan to take the case to the U.N. Security Council to punish the North if the regime is found responsible. The foreign ministry plans to brief diplomats from about 30 nations on the investigation's outcome this week.
As part of those efforts, South Korean officials already explained the cause of the sinking to Chinese, Russian and Japanese diplomats stationed in Seoul in separate sessions on Tuesday, a foreign ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
The three nations are members of the six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear programs, which include the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States. The talks have been stalled since late 2008 due to a North Korean boycott.
China and Russia are considered as key components of South Korea's efforts to punish the North, as both are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council with veto powers. Beijing is Pyongyang's last-remaining major ally and the main provider of aid, which has supported the North's ailing economy.