By Wilawan Watcharasakwet and Nontarat Phaicharoen
Thai aircraft and ships were searching for dozens of missing sailors after a Royal Thai Navy ship capsized and sank in rough seas off Prachuap Khiri Khan province, officials said Monday.
Seventy-five sailors have been rescued but the search in Gulf of Thailand waters was going on for at least 31 others from the HTMS Sukhothai despite strong winds and high waves hampering the operation, a Navy spokesman said Monday. It was the first sinking of a Thai navy ship in nearly eight decades dating back to World War II.
The ship’s engines and power generators failed after suffering severe flooding while being struck by 2- to 4-meter (6.5- to 13-foot) waves about 20 miles off shore on Sunday, officials said.
“We don’t give up on the search around the sunken spot. No one has been found dead so far,” Navy chief Adm. Choengchai Chomchoengpaet said Monday. “The Navy has dispatched war ships and aircraft, while the Air Force has sent helicopters and planes to search for them.”
“Preliminary, the injured said there was an influx of sea water and they tried to fight,” Choengchai said, adding, “but the rough weather led to more flooding causing the ship to lose generators and engines.”
A Navy spokesman, meanwhile, said a round-the-clock rescue operation was ongoing.
“We have rescued 75. The missing remains at 31. Though it is dark now, we will search for them all night,” Navy spokesman Adm. Pokkrong Monthatphalin told BenarNews on Monday evening.
As the Sukhothai was listing on Sunday, the Navy sent another ship to rescue the crews but could not get near it, officials said.
A non-commissioned officer on board the Sukhothai told local Thai media that the waves were as high as 5 meters (16.4 feet), as the frigate HMS Kraburi sailed nearby.
“The waves were so rough, the crews scattered around the decks and waited for other ships to come help but to no avail. We waited until our ship sank and they could help us,” Petty Officer Second Class Patarawut Maram said.
“Since setting sail for two years, I have never encountered such strong winds. The waves came in at once, four to five meters high, crashing until it hit the side of the boat,” he said.
“Some people fractured their ribs,” he said, adding, “we had to wait until our ship sank first, then another ship could come to help.”
A doctor in Prachuap Khiri Khan said 15 were treated for injuries including three who suffered broken bones.
Pokkrong, the Navy spokesman, said a cargo ship had sunk over the weekend in nearby waters.
Poor weather forecast
In its Monday forecast, the Thai Meteorological Department reported that poor conditions were expected to remain in the region.
“[The] northeasterly monsoon blanketed the Gulf of Thailand, southern Thailand and the Andaman Sea remains strong, causing heavy rains. In both the Gulf and the Andaman Sea, the waves are as high as 2 to 4 meters and above 4 meters in the rainy areas,” it said. “Boats should sail with caution and avoid the rainy stormy areas until Dec. 20.”
Designated FSG-442, the Sukhothai is one of the 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.
Bangkok 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.