Thai navy confirms five sailors dead a day after ship sinks (update)

Sailors gathering on board HTMS Kraburi at a pier during the search operation for survivors of the capsized HTMS Sukhothai. - AFP

PRACHUAP KHIRI KHAN, Thailand (The Straits Times/The Nation/Agencies): The Thai navy recovered the bodies of four sailors and rescued another two people after the sinking of a naval vessel earlier this week, according to the latest official update late Tuesday (Dec 20) afternoon.

The bodies of four crew members were found floating in the sea and will be identified before they are taken back to their families, said the Royal Thai Navy. One of the two people who were pulled out alive died after the rescue.

There were 105 sailors onboard the ill-fated HTMS Sukhothai when it went down late Sunday roughly 37km off the country’s south-eastern coast.

A total of 81 sailors have been accounted for and 24 remain missing. Some were without life vests.

Rescuers in helicopters, two planes, and four vessels – the HTMS Kraburi, HTMS Angthong, HTMS Naresuan and HTMS Bhumibol Adulyadej – were scanning the turbulent waters for the missing sailors, the navy said.

“The latest person was found 41 hours from when the ship sank and he was alive. So we believe that there are those still alive out there...we will continue to search,” said Admiral Chonlathis Navanugraha, the navy’s chief of staff.

Vice-Admiral Pichai Lorchusakul, the regional navy commander, said finding the men on Tuesday would be critical given their time exposed to the elements.

Efforts to find the missing crew were focused on aerial searches, with the Royal Thai airforce assisting the operation, which has been affected by strong winds.

HTMS Kraburi commander Kraiwit Kornraweeprapapitch said slightly improved weather would help the search.

“The format of searching is still the same, which is a joint operation with helicopters,” he said.

The vessels are scanning an area roughly 50km by 50km stretching from Prachuab to upper Chumporn.

Member of the National Institute for Emergency Medicine Sahachart Limcharoenphakdee said they were working with naval personnel to help those plucked from the waters.

“I am hopeful, and trust the navy rescue team who are skilful,” he said.

On Monday night, naval commander Pichai Lorchusakul told reporters at the pier that they remained focused on finding survivors.

“Our main priority is searching (for) and rescuing as many as we can,” he said.

He added this was the first time that the Thai navy had lost a ship this way.

The HTMS Sukhothai – a corvette, the smallest type of military warship – is believed to have run into trouble after its electronics system was damaged, according to the navy.

“The ship’s operating systems stopped working, causing the ship to lose control,” a spokesman said.

Most on board were rescued before the boat sank but dozens had to abandon ship in rafts and life jackets.

Lieutenant Colonel Pichitchai Tuannadee, captain of the sunken ship, said he was in the sea for two hours before he scrambled onto a raft and was found by search teams on Monday.

“To see something as small as a life ring or a person’s head above the surface of the water, it’s very hard to see with the big waves,” he said, adding that the missing sailors were likely to be fatigued by now from having to tread water and make sure those without vests stayed afloat.

One of the marines was found late on Monday clinging to a buoy.

“He was floating in the water for 10 hours. He was still conscious, so we could take him out of the water safely,” said HTMS Kraburi commander Kraiwit.

Relatives of the missing gathered at rescue centres awaiting news of loved ones.

Malinee Pudphong, aunt of missing marine Saharat Esa, said she spoke to her nephew by phone before the boat went down and was shocked to hear he did not get a life jacket.

“We have no hope as they are floating in the sea with just a life ring and with this kind of wind, you think they will withstand that?“ she said.

“It’s a body of a 21-year-old. He’s not strong enough.”

Parts of southern Thailand have been hit by storms and flooding in recent days.

A warning from the Thai meteorological office remained in place on Tuesday, with strong winds causing rough conditions in the Gulf of Thailand, cautioning seafarers to proceed with caution and small boats to stay ashore.

The HTMS Sukhothai was commissioned in 1987 and built in the United States by the now-defunct Tacoma Boatbuilding Company, according to the US Naval Institute.

Navy chief Admiral Choengchai Chomchoengpaet said the sinking would be investigated, including reports that there were not enough life jackets on board.

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Thailand , sailors , missing , HTMS Sukhothai


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