Death toll from sunken Thai warship rises

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Death toll from sunken Thai warship rises Relatives scatter flowers and the ashes of Thai navy sailors who perished in the sinking of the HTMS Sukhothai, on the waters in Sattahip Bay, Chonburi province, Thailand, Dec. 27, 2022.
[Courtesy of The Royal Thai Navy]

The Royal Thai Navy said Tuesday it had recovered the bodies of 20 sailors from a warship that sank in stormy weather and high waves in the Gulf of Thailand on Dec. 18.

Another body was awaiting final identification, while a search was still on for eight missing servicemen from the HTMS Sukhothai, Navy spokesman Adm. Pokkrong Monthatphalin told reporters. 

“Besides sea surface and seashore patrols, an underwater explosive ordnance disposal team searched for any missing men around the HTMS Sukhothai and its main deck,” he said. 

Three bodies were recovered – one on Monday and two on Tuesday – Pokkrong said. Two were confirmed to be navy men, while the third could be a crew member, but the body was awaiting a final autopsy, he said. 

Seventy-six of 105 people from the warship had been rescued within the first 24 hours, according to officials.

Other armed forces personnel joined the navy for around-the-clock operations to search for the missing people from the warship but have failed to find a single sailor alive since then.

The Sukhothai’s engines and power generators failed after the ship took on water from severe flooding after being struck by waves between 2 and 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) high on the evening of Dec. 18 off the coast of Prachuap Khiri Khan province, officials said.

Divers from the Thai Navy’s Diving and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Division get ready for an underwater search around the sunken HTMS Sukhothai, Dec. 25, 2022 [Courtesy of the Royal Thai Navy]

‘He feared a shipwreck’

On Monday, the mother of one of the seamen who perished questioned the navy for its decision to allow the HTMS Sukhothai to go to sea.  

Jirawat Thoob-hom “went on board a ship for the first time and never came [back]” his mother, who declined to give her name, told local media, after funeral rites were held Monday.

“He feared a shipwreck, so I want to ask [the navy] why it decided to let the ship leave the port.”

Separately, Navy Chief Adm. Choengchai Chomchoengpaet, who attended the funeral, offered his apology.

“The Navy feels sorry for the losses of our men and I apologize for the Navy being unable to save their lives despite strong efforts,” he told reporters. 

“The Navy will not give up the search operation and hopes there are some alive.”

The Sukhothai was one of two Royal Thai Navy corvettes built in Tacoma, Washington. 

Commissioned 35 years ago, it was capable of conducting surface-to-air, surface-to-surface and anti-submarine warfare.

The sinking was the first of a Thai warship in 77 years.

Thai media reported that the HTMS Samui sank after being struck by a U.S. torpedo near Malaysia in 1945, killing 31 sailors. Four years earlier, the French Navy attacked Thai ships during the Franco-Thai War, sinking two ships and heavily damaging a third.


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