Salvage mission yields ‘Sukhothai’ nameplate

Salvage mission yields ‘Sukhothai’ nameplate

19-day Thai-US mission expected to shed light on cause of sinking tragedy

The nameplate of the sunken HTMS Sukhothai is shown after it was retrieved from the Gulf of Thailand off Bang Saphan district in Prachuap Khiri Khan on Friday morning. (Photo: Royal Thai Navy)
The nameplate of the sunken HTMS Sukhothai is shown after it was retrieved from the Gulf of Thailand off Bang Saphan district in Prachuap Khiri Khan on Friday morning. (Photo: Royal Thai Navy)

The nameplate of the sunken HTMS Sukhothai was retrieved on Friday morning — the second day of a 19-day operation by the Thai and US navies to salvage the ill-fated vessel.

Thai and US divers planned to make four dives on Friday, with the first two involving surveying the ship and removing the nameplate, and the last two involving the examination of a crack found in the bow and an inspection of the hatch and missile launcher at the stern.

HTMS Sukhothai sank in the Gulf of Thailand on Dec 19, 2022. Of the 105 people on board, 76 were rescued, 24 were found dead, and five remain missing. The salvage operation is expected to shed light on what caused the vessel to sink.

In the joint salvage mission, which is as part of the Cobra Gold multinational military exercise, the Thai navy is deploying 35 divers, two minesweepers and one medium-seagoing watercraft. The US has deployed its Ocean Valor, which serves as the mission base, and 14 divers.

The nameplate was the first item to be retrieved from the sunken ship but divers could not remove it on the first day after three dives.

The first five days of the limited salvage mission involve search operations for missing crew and photo documentation of the ship to be included in the investigation. The following 14 days will include the demolition of critical components and weapons.

Navy chief Adm Adung Phan-iam, who observed the first day of the operation from the Ocean Valor, said on Thursday that the information gleaned from the mission would be included in the investigation.

“The Thai public will learn what caused the sinking. The information must be clear and every question must be addressed,” he said.

The Navy chief also thanked the US Navy for its assistance, adding that a fund of 90 million baht allocated by the Thai government for the mission would be returned to state coffers.

The navy last month cancelled the awarding of a salvage contract to a local company that had proposed to use equipment from China after the US reminded Thailand of its obligations.

The Sukhothai was built in the United States in 1987, 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.

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