Royal Thai Navy May Try to Salvage the Wreck of HMTS Sukhothai

Sukhothai sinking
Courtesy Royal Thai Navy

Published Dec 21, 2022 7:27 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Royal Thai Navy is considering a salvage operation for the wreck of the lost corvette HTMS Sukhothai, according to public broadcaster Thai PBS. 

The minesweeper Bang Rachan has reportedly been dispatched with a small sub to survey the wreck site, located about 20 miles of Bang Saphan. The Bang Rachan was built by Lurssen for the Thai Navy in the 1980s, and she was refitted with modern systems by Thales in 2019.

The survey results will inform decisionmaking about the possibility of a salvage mission, which would likely be undertaken by a contractor. Chinese state-owned salvage company COES (formerly Shanghai Salvage) is the dominant wreck removal bidder in the region and has conducted similar complex refloat operations - notably the raising of the ferry Sewol, which lay at approximately the same depth. The final price paid for that project was approximately $110 million, though the contractor's claimed costs were higher. 

In the near-term, the search for surviving crewmembers from HMTS Sukhothai continues, though officials acknowledge that the odds are diminishing. An additional vessel has been added to the search, along with coastal and near-shore patrols. 23 crewmembers remain missing, the majority either senior enlisteds or officers.

Coroners have identified the remains of the six bodies recovered from the water earlier in the week; like the missing, the deceased are primarily of middle rank. The bodies will be flown to U-Tapao Airport, where they will be given a military funeral ceremony with full state honors, presided over by naval commander Admiral Choengchai Chomchoengphaet.

76 survivors have been rescued, including 18 who were hospitalized and 58 who have returned home to their families. Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn has extended them royal patronage to cover their needs. 

The crew of the HMTS Kraburi rescues a survivor from the water, December 19 (HMTS Kraburi)

According to an official statement from Royal Thai Navy, the Sukhothai encountered strong winds and waves on Sunday while operating in the Gulf of Thailand about 20 miles off Bang Saphan. As the vessel rolled in the waves, seawater entered a side exhaust pipe, affecting her engines and electrical equipment and causing a blackout. 

More water entered the vessel, causing her to list further over. Her pumps were unable to control the flooding, and a responding vessel could not transfer over salvage pumps because the surface conditions were too rough. At 0012 hours on Sunday, the vessel capsized and sank.

At the time of the casualty, Sukhothai was under way for a naval award ceremony at Chumphon, and she had about 30 supernumeraries on board. Adm. Chomchoengphaet has confirmed that there were not enough floatation devices for both the crew and the extra personnel.

In addition, the crew reported difficulty in launching life rafts in severe surface conditions. "The incident happened very fast. The portside listed first and life rafts could not be launched there. The starboard side faced the stormy sea and it was difficult to release life rafts," regional commander Admiral Adung Pan-iam told reporters.