Urgent search for more than 2 dozen sailors missing after Thai warship sinks

Thailand Ship Sinking
In this photo provided by the Royal Thai Navy, the HTMS Sukhothai corvette warship lists off the coast of Prachuap Khiri Khan province, Thailand, on Dec. 18, 2022. The Thai navy ship sunk in the Gulf of Thailand and ships and helicopters were working Monday, Dec. 19 to rescue sailors from the water.

Royal Thai Navy via AP

Bangkok — Thai navy ships and helicopters were searching on Monday for more than two dozen sailors still missing more than 12 hours after a warship sank in rough seas overnight in the Gulf of Thailand.

As of noon, 75 sailors from the HTMS Sukhothai corvette had been rescued and 31 were still in the water, the navy said. The high waves that caused the accident had lessened since Sunday night’s sinking but were still high enough to endanger small boats, the navy said.

Some sailors survived by jumping into a life raft at night, images shared by the Royal Thai Navy showed, according to Agence France-Presse.

One crew member interviewed by Thai PBS television said he had to float in the sea for three hours before he was rescued. He said the ship was buffeted by 10-foot-high waves as it was sinking Sunday night, complicating rescue efforts.

A screen grab captured from a video shows rescued sailors after a Royal Thai Navy corvette sank on Sunday night, Dec. 18, 2022 in the Gulf of Thailand. At least 31 of the crew members were missing.

Royal Thai Navy/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“The waves are still high and we cannot search for them from the horizontal line. We have to fly the helicopters and search for them from a bird’s-eye view instead,” navy spokesman Adm. Pokkrong Monthatphalin told Thai PBS.

Eleven of the rescued sailors were being treated in a hospital. The navy denied a local media report that one death had been confirmed, saying the fatality was from an accident involving another boat. 

Strong winds blew seawater onto the ship and knocked out its electrical system Sunday evening, making it difficult to control. The navy dispatched three frigates and two helicopters with mobile pumping machines to try to assist the disabled ship by removing seawater but it couldn’t do so because of the strong winds.

The loss of power enabled more seawater to flow into the vessel, causing it to list and sink.

Thailand’s Meteorological Department had issued a weather advisory for the general area just a few hours before the accident, saying that waves in the Gulf of Thailand were expected to be 7-14 fee) high with thundershowers. It suggested that all ships “proceed with caution” and warned small craft not to go to sea until Tuesday. 

The warship had been on patrol 20 miles from the pier at Bangsaphan district in Prachuap Khiri Khan province. Pokkrong said the ship had been on its regular patrol to assist any fishing boats needing help.

31 crew members missing after Thai warship sinks
A screen grab captured from a video shows rescued sailors after a Royal Thai Navy corvette sank on Sunday night, Dec. 18, 2022 in the Gulf of Thailand.

Royal Thai Navy/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“Our top priority now is to rescue all the sailors. We will plan to have the ship salvaged later,” he said. The search was being conducted in an area of 6.2 square miles around the site of the sinking.

While northern and central Thailand are seeing their coldest temperatures of the year, far southern Thailand has been experiencing storms and flooding in recent days. Ships were warned to stay ashore.

The Sukhothai was a U.S.-built corvette in use since 1987, the Reuters news agency reports. AFP says it was constructed by the now-defunct Tacoma Boatbuilding Company, citing the US Naval Institute.

With a maximum displacement of 959 tons and a length of 252 feet, it was about midsize for a corvette, a type of armed vessel that typically is used for patrolling close offshore waters.

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