Empty Life Rafts from HTMS Sukhothai Found as Thai Navy Searches for 23 Missing Crew
Two empty life rafts, thought to belong to the ill-fated HTMS Sukhothai, have been discovered as the Royal Thai Navy intensifies its air and sea search for the 23 missing crew.
The crew of a trawler discovered the first empty life raft drifting at sea about 30 kilometers off the coast of Lamae district yesterday (Wednesday). On Thursday, the second empty life raft from the sunken HTMS Sukhothai washed ashore in Chumphon province’s Lang Suan district.
A medicine kit and a cell phone with its back cover were also discovered on the raft. Because the trawler has not yet completed its fishing and retrieval of its fishing equipment, the raft and the two items are expected to be returned to shore in 1-2 days.
Vice Admiral Pichai Lorchusakul, commander of the First Naval Area Command, stated today that four ships, five helicopters, and two fixed-wing aircraft participated in high-seas search and rescue operations.
Meanwhile, vessels from the Second Naval Area Command, the Fisheries and Marine and Coastal Resources departments, private volunteers, and private rescue foundations have joined the search operation, focusing on coastal areas and conducting foot patrols along the Chumphon province shoreline.
Vice Admiral Pichai stated that the focus has shifted to searching along the coastline, and that the search teams are racing against the clock to find the missing crew.
He also stated that naval divers on board the Bang Rachan ship had been dispatched to survey the sunken HTMS Sukhothai, which lies at a depth of about 40 meters, and that the information gathered by the divers could reveal whether any crew members are still trapped in the sunken ship.
According to mapping data provided by the Hydrographic Department, the missing crew may be drifting at sea off the coast of Chumphon province, on its way to Surat Thani.
He expects more progress in the search operations as weather conditions improve.
The House Military Affairs Committee has summoned Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in his capacity as Defence Minister, as well as RTN Commander-in-Chief Admiral Choengchai Chomchoengpaet, to testify about the tragic incident.
The chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee, Kriangsak Faisingam, stated that the panel has a few questions for the two men.
The first question is whether the defence minister or the naval commander-in-chief should be held accountable for ordering the HTMS to sea despite the bad weather. Was it a miscalculation or a lack of knowledge about the weather?
The next question is how the tragedy occurred, despite 1.2 billion baht being allocated for ship maintenance.
Finally, the committee wants to know if the HTMS Sukhothai was overloaded, with 105 men on board, and why there weren’t enough life vests for everyone.
Haikorn Polsuwan, an adviser to a House committee studying and monitoring budget spending management, asked committee chairman Chaiya Promma and Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew on Wednesday to look into the navy’s budget spending on warship maintenance.
He asked the committee to investigate whether the navy spent its maintenance budget wisely and whether the navy purchased enough life-saving equipment for crew members.
“The navy is required to follow the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. A ship must have an adequate supply of life jackets “He stated.
Dr. Cholnan stated that he will bring the issue up in parliament on Thursday and demand that Gen Prayut take responsibility.
“Someone must be held accountable,” he said, adding that the opposition will look into the navy’s budget for ship maintenance.
On Tuesday, Adm Choengchai admitted that there were not enough life jackets for the ship’s crew.
He did, however, explain that before the ship sank, it took on board 15 marines and another 15 personnel from the Air and Coastal Defence Command to participate in a ceremony commemorating the death anniversary of the Prince of Chumphon, who is regarded as the “Father of the Thai Navy” in Chumphon.
He stated that the ship’s crew already had personal life jackets, and that additional life jackets, as well as other life-saving devices such as life rafts, were kept in reserve for emergencies.
“Because there weren’t enough life jackets for the extra 30 people on board, we tried to save those who didn’t have life jackets,” Adm Choengchai explained, adding that a life raft can hold up to 15 people.
“Of the 30 people who did not have life jackets, 18 were rescued, while the rest remained in the water,” he said.
On Wednesday, Gen Prayut expressed his deepest regret for the casualties and expressed his condolences to the families of the deceased crew members, saying that he will ensure that the families of the deceased receive the compensation they deserve.
With 105 crew on board, the HTMS Sukhothai sank on Sunday evening about 20 nautical miles (around 37 kilometers) off the coast of Prachuap Khiri Khan.
The HTMS Sukhothai was on patrol off the coast of Prachuap Khiri Khan’s Bang Saphan district when it was battered by high waves and strong winds, according to navy spokesman Adm Pokkrong Monthatpalin.
The ship listed sharply and took on water, causing damage to its electrical systems and engine failure. He claimed that without power, the corvette listed even more and eventually capsized.
The navy deployed a remote-controlled SeaFox mine disposal vehicle on Wednesday to photograph the sunken corvette and assist in its salvage planning.
As of Wednesday, 82 of the 105 crew members on board the corvette when it went down had been found, according to the navy. Six people were found dead, and 23 people were still missing.
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