Bangkok (AFP) – Thai navy ships and helicopters on Monday searched for more than 30 sailors still missing more than 17 hours after their warship sank in rough seas in the Gulf of Thailand.
The Navy said that as of Monday afternoon, 75 sailors had been rescued from the corvette HTMS Sukhothai and 31 were still missing. The navy said the high waves that caused the accident had receded since Sunday night’s sinking but were still high enough to endanger small boats.
One of the rescued crew members said in an interview with Thai PBS television that he had to float in the sea for three hours before he was rescued. He said that three-meter-high waves hit the ship as it sank on Sunday night, complicating rescue efforts.
The waves are still high and we can’t look them up from the horizontal line. “We have to fly in helicopters and look for them from a bird’s eye view,” Navy spokesman Admiral Bokrung Montativalen told PBS Thailand.
11 of the rescued sailors are being treated in hospital. The Navy denied a local media report that a person had died, saying the death was caused by an accident involving another boat.
Strong winds blew seawater onto HTMS Sukhothai and knocked out its electrical system Sunday night, making control of the ship difficult. The Navy sent three frigates and two helicopters with mobile pumping machines to try to help the crippled ship by removing sea water, but could not do so because of the strong winds.
The loss of power allowed more seawater to flood into the ship, causing it to list and sink.
The Thai Meteorological Department issued a special weather warning for the general area a few hours before the accident, saying that waves in the Gulf of Thailand are expected to rise between 2 and 4 meters (7-14 feet) with thundery rain. He suggested that all ships proceed with “caution” and warned small craft not to go out to sea until Tuesday.
The Sukhothai was built in Tacoma, Washington, and commissioned in 1987. With a maximum displacement of 959 tons and a length of 76.8 meters (252 ft), it is a mid-sized harada, a type of armed vessel typically used to patrol inshore waters.
The warship was on patrol 32 kilometers (20 miles) from the pier in Bangsavan district of Prachuap Khiri Khan district. Bokkrong said the ship was on regular patrol to help fishing boats in need of assistance.
Our top priority now is to save all sailors. We’ll plan to salvage the ship later. The search was conducted in an area of 16 square kilometers (6.2 sq mi) around the sinking site.
While northern and central Thailand experiences the coldest temperatures of the year, the far south of Thailand has seen storms and floods in recent days.