Thailand navy searches for 31 missing sailors after warship sinks

Naval vessel HTMS Sukhothai capsizes in high waves late on Sunday while patrolling the Gulf of Thailand.

Crew members from the capsized HTMS Sukhothai warship receive medical treatment in the Gulf of Thailand, December 18, 2022. Royal Thai Navy/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
Crew members from the capsized HTMS Sukhothai patrol ship receive medical treatment in the Gulf of Thailand [Royal Thai Navy/handout via Reuters]

Thai navy ships and helicopters are searching for 31 sailors missing after their warship sank in rough seas in the Gulf of Thailand.

The HTMS Sukhothai capsized late on Sunday while it was on patrol about 37km (22 miles) off the nation’s southeastern coast.

As of Monday afternoon, 75 sailors serving on the corvette had been rescued and 31 were still missing, the navy said. High waves that caused the accident had lessened since the sinking but were still high enough to endanger small boats, the navy said.

A statement from the air force on Monday said it was assisting in the operation. It did not give details.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the cause of the incident was being investigated. “I am following the news closely,” he said in a statement. “About five people are seriously injured.”

A rescued crew member interviewed by Thai PBS television said he floated in the sea for three hours before he was rescued. He said the ship was buffeted by waves 3 metres (10 feet) high as it was sinking.

“The waves are still high and we cannot search for them from the horizontal line,” navy spokesman Pokkrong Monthatphalin told Thai PBS. “We have to fly the helicopters and search for them from a bird’s eye view instead.”

Army personnel and rescue crew gather at a makeshift rescue operation site during the search for survivors of the capsizing of the Thai naval vessel HTMS Sukhothai about 37 kilometres (22 miles) off the southeastern coast on Sunday night, at Bang Saphan Pier in Prachuap Khiri Khan district, on December 19, 2022. - Thai military frigates and helicopters were on December 19 searching for 31 sailors after a naval vessel sank, with dozens of others having been hauled from choppy waters. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)
Military personnel and rescue crews have been deployed to search for survivors of the capsizing of the HTMS Sukhothai [Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP]

Eleven of the rescued sailors were being treated in hospital. The navy denied a local media report that one death had been confirmed, saying the fatality was from an accident involving another boat.

Thailand’s Meteorological Department had issued a weather advisory for the general area just a few hours before the accident, saying thundershowers were expected in the Gulf of Thailand along with waves 2 to 4 metres (7 to 14 feet) high. It suggested that all ships “proceed with caution” and warned small craft not to go to sea until Tuesday.

The Sukhothai was built in Tacoma, Washington, in the United States and was commissioned in 1987. It is a midsized corvette, an armed vessel typically used for patrolling close to shore waters. It has a maximum displacement of 959 tonnes and a length of 76.8 metres (252 feet).

The warship had been on patrol 32km (20 miles) from the pier in Bangsaphan district in Prachuap Khiri Khan province. Pokkrong said the ship had been on a regular patrol to assist any fishing boats needing help.

“Our top priority now is to rescue all the sailors,” he said. “We will plan to have the ship salvaged later.”

Northern and central Thailand are seeing their coldest temperatures of the year, and far southern Thailand has been experiencing storms and flooding in recent days.

Source: News Agencies