Key point: The Kim family has frequently attacked South Korea over the years.
In 2010, North Korea sank a South Korean warship, killing more than forty sailors. The bold attack, conducted in secret by submarine, was the deadliest incident between the two countries in decades. Although Pyongyang’s involvement was suspected from the outset, an international commission set up to investigate the attack later conclude North Korea was indeed responsible.
On the night of March 26, 2010 the Republic of Korean Navy corvette ROKS Cheonan was on patrol off the coast of Baengnyeong Island. The Cheonan was a Pohang-class corvette, designed for coastal patrol duties. North Korea had instigated several ship-to-ship skirmishes with South Korean naval forces in the West Sea, and the Pohang was a large ship capable of decisively taking on smaller, weaker North Korean gunboats.
South Korea built twenty-four Pohang-class ships, divided between anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare variants. Cheonan, an anti-submarine ship, was 289 feet long, displaced 1,200 tons and had a typical crew of ninety-five. Her armament included a bow-mounted Oto Melara 76mm rapid fire gun, the same kind used by the U.S. Navy on the Oliver Hazard Perry–class guided missile frigates, four Harpoon anti-ship missiles, six Mk.46 anti-submarine torpedoes and depth charges.
On the day of the incident, ROK Navy’s Second Fleet Command warned the Cheonan that a North Korean submarine and six support vessels had disappeared from the port city of Nampo. Located twenty miles southwest of Pyongyang, Nampo is a major hub of North Korean naval activity, including submarine, gunboat and armed hovercraft bases.