The Thai Navy is searching for 31 missing sailors after the ship sank

BANGKOK (AP) – Thai Navy ships and helicopters on Monday searched for more than 30 sailors who were still missing more than 17 hours after their warship sank in rough seas in the Gulf of Thailand.

As of Monday afternoon, 75 sailors from the corvette HTMS Sukhothai had been rescued and 31 were still missing, the navy said. The high waves that caused the accident have receded since sinking Sunday night but are still high enough to endanger small boats, the Navy said.

A rescued crew member interviewed by Thailand’s PBS television said he had to swim in the sea for three hours before he was rescued. He said the ship was battered by 3-metre waves as it sank on Sunday night, complicating rescue efforts.

“The waves are still high and we cannot look for them from the horizontal line. We need to fly the helicopters and look for them from a bird’s eye view instead,” said Navy spokesman Adm. Pokkrong Monthatphalin versus Thai PBS.

Eleven of the rescued sailors were treated in a hospital. The Navy denied a local media report that a fatality had been confirmed, saying the fatality resulted from an accident involving another boat.

Strong winds blew seawater on HTMS Sukhothai and destroyed her electrical system Sunday night, making the ship difficult to control. The Navy dispatched three frigates and two helicopters with mobile pumping machines to try to help the wrecked ship by clearing the seawater, but could not do so because of the strong winds.

The power outage allowed more seawater to flow into the ship, causing it to list and sink.

The Thai Meteorological Agency had issued a general area weather report just hours before the accident, saying waves in the Gulf of Thailand were expected to be 2 to 4 meters (7 to 14 feet) high and thunderstorms expected. It suggested all ships “proceed with caution” and warned small vessels not to put to sea until Tuesday.

The Sukhothai was built in Tacoma, Washington and entered service in 1987. With a maximum displacement of 959 tons and a length of 76.8 meters (252 ft), she is about medium size for a corvette, a type of armed vessel typically used for patrolling near offshore waters.

The warship had been on patrol 32 kilometers (20 miles) from the pier in Bangsaphan district of Prachuap Khiri Khan province. Pokkrong said the ship had been on a regular patrol to help any fishing boats that needed help.

“Our top priority now is to save all sailors. We plan to have the ship salvaged later,” he said. The search was conducted in a 16 square kilometer area around the site of the sinking.

While northern and central Thailand are experiencing the coldest temperatures of the year, storms and flooding have hit the far south of Thailand in recent days.

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