RTN takes flak over lost ship

Panel prepares to grill PM over disaster

The Royal Thai Navy (RTN) has come under fire over the sinking of its warship as a House committee on military affairs prepares to grill Prime Minister Prayut and Defence Minister Chan-o-cha over the matter next week.

Prasert Chantararuangtong, an adviser to the committee, said that the panel has taken the matter up for consideration and will summon Gen Prayut as well as navy chief Adm Choengchai Chomchoengpaet to explain the matter next week.

Mr Prasert, also secretary-general of the Pheu Thai Party, said he wondered how well HTMS Sukhothai had been maintained before it sank on Sunday, adding that the navy had received regular budget allocations for the upkeep of the warship.

He also criticised the navy over a lack of safety standards on board the ship, as there were not enough life jackets to go around when the vessel capsized during a storm.

He questioned whether the weather conditions were taken into account before the ship set sail.

“If the conditions were terrible, why was going out to sea insisted upon? A ship at this level must have had a system to pump out any water, but when it listed, it capsized and sank easily,” he said.

Thaikorn Polsuwan, an adviser to a House committee studying and monitoring budget spending management, yesterday asked the committee chairman, Chaiya Promma, and Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew to investigate the navy’s budget spending on the maintenance of the warship.

He said he wanted the committee to look into whether the navy had spent its budget on maintenance efficiently and whether the navy had bought enough life-saving gear for crew members.

“The navy must comply with the International Convention for the Safety of Life At Sea. There must be enough life jackets for those on board a ship,” he said.

Dr Cholnan said he will raise the matter in parliament today and will demand that Gen Prayut take responsibility.

“Someone must be held responsible,” he said, adding that the opposition will scrutinise the navy’s budget spending on the ship’s maintenance.

Adm Choengchai admitted on Tuesday that there were not enough life jackets for crew members on the ship.

But he explained that before the ship sank, it took on board 15 marines and another 15 personnel from the Air and Coastal Defence Command to take part in a ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of the Prince of Chumphon, who is regarded as the “Father of the Thai Navy” in Chumphon.

He said that the ship’s crew already had their personal life jackets while there were also life jackets kept in reserve for emergencies, as well as other life-saving appliances such as life rafts.

“Since there were not enough life jackets for the extra 30 people on board, we tried to use other equipment to save those who had no life jackets,” Adm Choengchai said, adding a life raft can accommodate up to 15 people.

“Of the 30 who had no life jackets, 18 were pulled from the sea while the rest remained in the sea,” he said.

Gen Prayut yesterday expressed his deepest regret over the casualties and extended his condolences to the families of the dead crew members, saying that he will see to it that the families of the deceased will receive the compensation they deserve.

HTMS Sukhothai sank on Sunday evening about 20 nautical miles (around 37 kilometres) off the coast of Prachuap Khiri Khan with 105 crew on board.

According to navy spokesman Adm Pokkrong Monthatpalin, 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.

The ship listed sharply and took on water, which damaged its electrical systems and caused the engines to fail. Without power, the corvette listed even further and eventually capsized, he said.

The navy yesterday deployed a remote-controlled SeaFox mine disposal vehicle to take photos of the sunken corvette and help plan for its salvage.

According to the navy, of the 105 crew members on board the corvette when it went down, 82 had been found as of yesterday. Six were found dead, and 23 were still missing.