Salvage of sunken corvette Sukhothai begins

Salvage of sunken corvette Sukhothai begins

Divers from Thai-US team spot ruptured bow but navy chief denies poor maintenance was a cause

Salvage of sunken corvette Sukhothai begins
The US naval supply ship Ocean Valor takes part in a mission to salvage HTMS Sukhothai in the Gulf of Thailand off Prachuap Khiri Khan province on Thursday. (Photo: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)

The Thai and US navies on Thursday started the salvage of the corvette HTMS Sukhothai in the Gulf of Thailand off Prachuap Khiri Khan. The navy chief said divers saw a bow rupture but he denied poor maintenance caused it.

Thirty-five Thai naval divers and 14 American naval divers will be diving together to the wreck over the course of a 19-day mission, said Adm Adung Phan-iam Navy, the Royal Thai Navy commander-in-chief.

The United States has deployed the supply ship Ocean Valor, which is also being used in the ongoing Cobra Gold multinational military exercises.

The commander said divers on Thursday would retrieve the nameplate of HTMS Sukhothai and over the next five days would be photographing the whole ship and looking for missing personnel.

Photographs already showed a rupture in the bow of the ship but it did not result from any substandard maintenance, Adm Adung stressed. More information from the mission is needed to support a conclusion on what caused the sinking, he added.

The navy had received a 200-million-baht budget for the salvage operation. The mission with the US will cost 110 million baht and the navy would return 90 million baht to the government, he said.

The corvette was still upright on the seabed and has attracted a lot of marine life, Adm Adung said.

HTMS Sukhothai sank about 35 kilometres off the coast of Prachuap Khiri Khan on Dec 18, 2022, after being caught in a storm. Of the 105 crew aboard the ship, 76 were rescued and 24 died, while five remain missing.

Last month the US warned the Royal Thai Navy about the reported involvement of a Chinese company in a plan to salvage the vessel, which was built in the US in 1987.

Consequently the navy cancelled the awarding of a contract to a local company that had proposed to use equipment from China, and agreed to abide by its agreement with the US.

The US had been pressing the navy for information about the salvage operation, since the Sukhothai came under the US Foreign Military Sales Act, was equipped with advanced weapons systems and subject to end-use monitoring. In such cases, the selection of a salvage contractor is also subject to review by Washington.

When the US became aware of the matter, it had asked the navy to abide by its agreement with Washington. It warned that failure to do so could affect future military sales to Thailand.