Thai ships, planes head out to assist boat people

Thai ships, planes head out to assist boat people

Navy personnel watch HTMS Saiburi, a frigate, leave a base on Phuket island on Tuesday to join six other ships involved in a humanitarian operation to assist boat people on their way. (Photo by Achadtaya Chuenniran)
Navy personnel watch HTMS Saiburi, a frigate, leave a base on Phuket island on Tuesday to join six other ships involved in a humanitarian operation to assist boat people on their way. (Photo by Achadtaya Chuenniran)

The Royal Thai Armed Forces launched an operation on Tuesday to provide humanitarian assistance to Rohingya and Bengali migrants found adrift on boar boats in the Andaman Sea.

The operation mainly involves the Royal Thai Navy Region 3 and the Royal Thai Air Force and is initially scheduled to last for two weeks, but could be extended if needed.

Region 3 naval commander Vice Adm Sayan Pasongsamret said during a ceremony to launch the operation at a base in Phuket province that the area assigned is about 30 nautical miles west of the Similan Islands.

"We have been assigned by the government to undertake the operation over about two weeks,'' he said.

The navy has deployed seven vessels including HTMS Ang Thong, which is used as a floating base, HTMS Saiburi and HTMS Thayanchon, along with two reconnaissance planes and two helicopters. The combined force numbers about 600 personnel.

Gripen fighter jets from Wing 7 in Surat Thani province will have the key search role in the air force contribution to the operation.

The launch follows an order on Monday by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to patrol and give humanitarian assistance to Rohingya and other boat people fleeing Bangladesh after the migrant crisis exploded into an issue of regional concern.

Vice Adm Sayan reiterated the Thai position - that boat people trying to go ashore in Thai territory will face legal action.

The navy will give the boat people food, fuel and medical help as needed to enable them to continue the journey to their planned destination, he said. They will not be allowed to land.

Supreme Commander Gen Worapong Sanganetra said the armed forces have not ruled out the use of the navy's flagship  HTMS Chakri Nareubet, the largest ship in the fleet,  if it is deemed necessary and the budget permits it.

The navy believes there are 2,000 to 4,000 migrants on board vessels in the Andaman sea at present. The United Nations has estimated only 2,000.


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