PHUKET: A round object believed to be debris from the launch of a satellite or space shuttle has been salvaged from the seabed near an island off the coast of Phuket.
The operation was described by 3rd Naval Area commander Vice Admiral Choengchai Chomchoengpaet at a press conference on Monday.
V/Adm Choengchai said the object was found by local fishermen earlier this month. It was a round aluminium-like hollow object, about 45 centimetres in diameter.
It was on the seabed about 6 metres below the surface, 20 metres offshore from Koh Ael in tambon Chalong of Phuket's Muang district.
He said specialists from an explosive ordnance disposal unit of the 3rd Naval Area went to examine it. They took pictures and sent them to the Naval Ordnance Department for examination.
The ordnance department decided it was probably part of a fuel tank from a rocket used to launch a satellite or a space shuttle. An internet search revealed similar objects had been found at many places on the Earth's surface.
The department contacted the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA) and the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand, which both confirmed the object was probably part of a space-launch rocket fuel tank.
GISTDA said such tanks usually contained chemicals such as ammonia or hydrogen, which could be hazardous to health, V/Adm Choengchai said.
The 3rd Naval Area, Region 3 Thai Maritime Enforcement Command Centre (Thai-MECC), the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources and GISTDA then drew up a plan to retrieve it from the seabed.
Divers were sent down to examine it. They detected no chemical leaks and reported it was unlikely to cause any harm to the environment or to people.
The object was brought up to the surface and taken to 3rd Naval Area headquarters. It would be sent to GISTDA for further study, V/Adm Choengchai said.
"If other objects similar to this one are found elsewhere, people should not touch them. They could contain hazardous chemicals. They should immediately inform Region 3 Thai-MECC or local officials," he said.
Also present at the press conference were Chidchanok Chaichuenchob, a satellite engineer from the GISTDA, and representatives of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources.