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North Korean navy ship sank during drill, reports say

SEOUL — A North Korean naval vessel sank last month, killing an unspecified number of sailors, according to North and South Korean news media.

The news first appeared on Saturday when the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, had visited a newly built cemetery for the sailors “sacrificed” on board a submarine chaser during “combat duties” last month.

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The news agency gave no further details about what happened but quoted Kim as instructing his navy to “find all the bodies,” hinting at a sizable death toll. Photos of Kim visiting the cemetery with flowers showed a large mass tomb encircled by what looked like at least a score of headstones bearing the names and photographs of the sailors who had died.

South Korean military officials said there was no military clash between the two Koreas last month.

The mass-circulation newspaper Chosun Ilbo in Seoul reported on Monday that “tens” of sailors were believed to have died when the submarine chaser and a North Korean patrol boat sank off the North’s eastern coast during a navy drill. The submarine chaser was probably a 375-ton vessel built in China in the 1960s, it said, citing an unidentified military official.

The South Korean news agency Yonhap cited an unidentified government official as saying the North’s navy vessel sank during a training mission off the port of Wonsan.

North Korea rarely reports accidents involving its military. But South Korean officials have said accidents are common in the North Korean military, which still relies on outdated equipment from the Soviet era.

“I can’t sleep when I think about those who left us at such young ages,” Kim was quoted as saying about the fallen sailors at the cemetery.

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