Five more bodies plucked from the sea, six days after navy corvette sinking

Five more bodies were discovered from the sea yesterday, bringing the death toll to 11 as the search for the missing 18 sailors of HTMS Sukhothai entered its sixth day.

Navy spokesman Adm Pokkrong Monthatpalin said the bodies were spotted by naval ships and aircraft in the search mission and retrieved by HTMS Taksin and HTMS Kraburi. He said the navy would like to thank all parties for their support in the search and rescue operation.

HTMS Sukhothai, with 105 people on board, sank on Sunday night as it was patrolling in rough seas off Prachuap Khiri Khan’s Bang Saphan district. Seventy-six were rescued, 11 have been found dead and 18 are still unaccounted for.

Surat Thani governor Witchawut Jinto said yesterday a backpack which belonged to a sailor on the ill-fated ship was washed ashore at Thian beach on Koh Tao.

The backpack, which was found by tourists and handed over to officials, contained a wallet and a naval identification card of Thaweesak sae Sieaw, a crew member of HTMS Sukhothai.

On Friday, a life jacket from HTMS Sukhothai was found in the sea off Koh Tao in Surat Thani by a fisherman who spotted the vest floating 25 nautical miles (50km) from the island.

Mr Witchawut ordered the setting up of a operation base for the navy’s search drones on Samret beach in Tha Chana district to search for the missing. The base was set up in response to an analysis of wave and wind activity during Dec 24-26.

The Thai Maritime Enforcement Command Centre (Thai-MECC) Region 2, meanwhile, also mobilised resources and equipment to join the search with local fishermen in Surat Thani’s Ban Don area.

Fishermen and residents in the coastal districts of Tha Chana, Chaiya, Tha Chang, Phun Phin, Don Sak, Koh Samui and Koh Phangang were asked to alert authorities if they found bodies or materials related to the sunken vessel.

Pol Maj Gen Atchayon Kraithong, a police spokesman, said yesterday the bodies would be identified through the disaster victim identification process. He said the seventh body, found on Friday, arrived at the Police Institute of Forensic Medicine in Bangkok and it was likely to be released to the family today.

Meanwhile, a source said the navy is surveying the wreck site to gather information for its investigation into the sinking of HTMS Sukhothai which lies horizontally about 40 metres under the water.

The survey results can also be used to determine the possibility of a salvage mission. However, the navy will have to hire a private contractor to undertake the operation which will take months to plan if it is to proceed.