PRACHUAP KHAN: Thai military frigates and helicopters kept up the search late on Monday for 31 sailors missing after a naval vessel sank, with dozens of others already hauled from the choppy waters.
The HTMS Sukhothai capsized late on Sunday as it was patrolling the Gulf of Thailand, about 37 kilometres off the Southeast Asian nation’s southeastern coast.
Some sailors survived by jumping into a life raft at night, according to images shared by the Royal Thai Navy, which said 75 people had been rescued.
Search and rescue teams continued to scour the waters for the 31 missing sailors, with emergency workers and naval personnel waiting at the windy pier. The operation involved two Seahawk helicopters, two frigates and one amphibious ship, the navy statement said.
A statement from the Royal Thai Air Force said they had assisted in the operation, without giving details. “Our main priority is searching and rescuing as many as we can,” naval commander Pichai Lorchusakul said at the pier.
The vessel is believed to have run into trouble after its electronics system was damaged, according to the navy. “The ship’s operating systems stopped working, causing the ship to lose control,” a spokesperson said.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha said the cause of the incident was being investigated.
“I am following the news closely, about five people are seriously injured,” he added in a statement.
The navy said the search was still ongoing over an area measuring around 20 miles by 15 miles, concentrating on a section of sea roughly 18 miles south of the Sukhothai’s last position, and the area where the latest survivors were found.
One image shared by the navy showed the vessel capsized, while a video showed a rescue boat alongside the ship in rough waters. Other images shared on the navy’s Twitter account showed men wrapped in blankets following their rescue.
Some of those rescued were being airlifted to a hospital in Sattahip, while uninjured crew would be taken to a naval base.
In one clip captured by local media, an unnamed crew member said he had to keep himself afloat for three hours before being rescued. “The waves were quite high, about three metres when the ship sank,” he said.
“I put on the life jacket and jumped. I swam for three hours,” he added, describing how one of the rescue vessels could not get close enough because of the waves.
Several areas in southern Thailand have been hit by storms and flooding in recent days.
The Thai metrological office said that strong winds were causing stormy conditions in the Gulf of Thailand, warning seafarers to proceed with caution and small boats to stay ashore.
The HTMS Sukhothai was commissioned in 1987 and built in the United States by the now-defunct Tacoma Boatbuilding Company, according to the US Naval Institute.
In 2018, a boat carrying mostly Chinese tourists capsized off Phuket island on Thailand’s west coast. More than 40 people died in the accident, one of the worst boat disasters in the country’s recent history.
Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2022