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Royal Thai Navy Recovers Six Deceased Sailors From Lost Corvette

Royal Thai Navy
A helicopter returned the bodies of deceased crewmembers to the pier at Prachuap Port (Royal Thai Navy)

Published Dec 20, 2022 7:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday, the Royal Thai Navy confirmed that it recovered the bodies of six sailors from the sunken corvette HMTS Sukhothai and rescued one additional survivor from a life raft in the Gulf of Thailand.

Out of 105 people on board the warship when it went down Sunday, 76 have been rescued alive, six are dead and 23 remain missing. The bodies of the deceased crewmembers were flown ashore at Prachuap Port and delivered to a nearby hospital for formal identification. 

The search continues despite diminishing odds, and the focus has expanded to include coastal areas where the wind and currents would have swept any survivors. The Thai armed forces have enlisted four vessels, two patrol aircraft, two helicopters, one aerial drone and assets of the Thai Air Force to help with the search. 

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. 

The sinking of the Sukhothai is the first peactime loss of a warship that the Royal Thai Navy has suffered in recent memory. The loss removes one fifth of the service's surface combatant fleet; it also has raised questions about the navy's budgeting priorities, which have been focused in recent years on the acquisition of a single Chinese-built S26T Yuan-class submarine.

Royal Thai Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Choengchai Chomchoenpaet has promised a thorough investigation into the circumstances of the sinking, including an examination of survivors' statements that there were not enough life jackets on board. In comments to Thai PBS, he described a chaotic abandon-ship evolution in the Sukhothai's final moments, with sailors scrambling to get off the sinking vessel and climb board a limited number of life rafts.