Salvage crews have lifted the wreckage of a South Korean warship that broke in half and sank following a mysterious explosion last month in the Yellow Sea.
A giant naval crane carefully raised the stern, or the rear section, of the 1,200 ton Cheonan early Thursday and loaded the wreckage on a barge for transport to a naval base for inspection.
A team of international experts from the United States and Australia are on hand to assist in the investigation.
Officials believe the rear section of the warship contains the bodies of 44 crew members who have been missing since the incident. Fifty-eight sailors were rescued shortly after the explosion.
Television footage showed bodies being removed from the stern after it was raised from the ocean. The bodies of at least 16 missing sailors have been recovered.
The bodies of two sailors were initially recovered after the disaster.
The warship was on routine patrol along the tense maritime border with North Korea at the time of the incident. Seoul and Pyongyang engaged in three bloody clashes in 1999, 2002 and last November.
A cause of the explosion has not been determined, but South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young has said a torpedo may have been responsible.
Speculation has also risen that a sea mine left over from the 1950-53 Korean War was the cause of the explosion.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told reporters in Washington Wednesday that the investigation into the sinking of the Cheonan takes top priority over resuming the six-nation talks over North Korea's nuclear program.
Campbell said the U.S. and South Korea will be able to "make some judgments about the way forward" once the investigation is complete.
Some information for this report was provided by AP.