Joint Thai-US operation to salvage sunken HTMS Sukhothai begins

Photo of Mitch Connor
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Picture courtesy of Royal Thai Navy

A joint operation to salvage HTMS Sukhothai, which tragically sank approximately 35 kilometres off the coast of Prachuap Khiri Khan on December 18, 2022, will kick off this Thursday, as announced by the Thai and US navies. The vessel was victim to a fierce storm that led to its sinking.

The Royal Thai Navy (RTN) spokesperson, Rear Admiral Veerudom Muangjin, revealed yesterday, February 17, that the operation will involve 40 Thai naval officers stationed on HTMS Rattnakosin, alongside two mine-sweeping boats and a medium-seagoing watercraft. The US contribution will consist of the Ocean Valor and 17 marines from Hawaii’s Mobile Dive and Salvage Unit.

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The operation is part of the 2024 Cobra Gold exercise, described as a light salvage. The primary objective, according to R.Adm. Veerudom, is to verify the exact cause of the tragic capsize. This follows an internal investigation into the incident conducted by the RTN, reported Bangkok Post.

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The ship was carrying a total of 105 crew members at the time of the disaster. 76 were fortunately rescued, but the incident claimed the lives of 24 individuals, and five are still missing. R.Adm. Veerudom expressed hope that the operation might locate the missing crew members, whose bodies could potentially be trapped within the wreckage.

The US Navy team’s role extends beyond the recovery of the ship. They will meticulously examine the wreckage to ensure that no hazardous items or chemicals have been left behind on the ocean floor, said R.Adm. Veerudom,

“We have faith in the US Navy’s extensive experience and specialist equipment and anticipate a successful operation.”

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Ocean Valor is due to arrive at the salvage site tomorrow, in advance of the main operation. For safety purposes, the site and surrounding sea will be declared a no-go zone for marine navigation during the operation.

The safety of both the Thai and US teams involved in the operation is paramount, and robust security measures will be implemented. These include a comprehensive survey of the vessel beforehand and thorough documentation of the process.

R.Adm. Veerudom also highlighted the symbolic significance of the joint operation.

“This operation is a testament to the longstanding camaraderie between the RTN and the US Navy.”

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