Thai Warship Sinks After Power Loss In Heavy Storm, Dozens Still Missing (Updated)

A search and rescue mission continues to look for survivors after the sinking of a Royal Thai Navy corvette in bad weather yesterday. The warship, HTMS Sukhothai, encountered high winds and strong waves, which led to a power failure and quickly flooded the deck, during the incident on Sunday evening, local time.

The Royal Thai Navy, or RTN, says that the corvette had 106 crew on board when it encountered a storm in the Gulf of Thailand. Of those personnel, 28 are still to be rescued, with other warships and helicopters now engaged in the recovery mission.

Videos and photos — including at the top of this story — show the corvette listing precariously, at an angle of almost 60 degrees, as it begins to capsize. At least one other photo shows members of the crew clinging to railings as the ship tilts in the water. Dramatic imagery taken by some kind of electro-optical sensor then shows the bow of the ship and a gun turret poking out above the waterline as the vessel finally goes down, which happened at around 11:30 PM local time.

According to Royal Thai Navy spokesperson Pokkrong Monthatphalin, strong waves initially meant the vessel had begun to take on water, affecting its electrical systems, which led to a loss of propulsive power. With the corvette out of control, water then began to rush into the hull, and it started to capsize.

An initial statement from the Royal Thai Navy suggested that all the crew of the Sukhothai had been accounted for, although by mid-morning Monday it had become clear that many were still awaiting rescue. It seems that initially at least, continued strong winds and waves hampered recovery efforts.

So far, 78 sailors have been rescued, leaving another 28, according to officials, still unaccounted for. The Sukhothai, a Ratanakosin class corvette, typically goes to sea with a complement of 15 officers and 72 enlisted crew.

The Royal Thai Navy corvette HTMS Sukhothai steams in the Gulf of Thailand in 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Patrick Dille

At the time of the incident, the Sukhothai was patrolling in the Gulf of Thailand around 20 miles off the coast of central Thailand’s Bang Saphan District. Weather reports had already warned of high waves and heavy rain expected in the vicinity on Sunday and Monday. As a result, local ferry services had been suspended.

The ongoing rescue effort now involves three other vessels as well as two helicopters. Apparently the first of the rescue flotilla on the scene was the Chao Phraya class frigate HTMS Kraburi, which arrived before the Sukhothai sank. The RTN also dispatched the frigate HTMS Bhumibol Adulyadej and the landing platform dock HTMS Angthong, which arrived later.

At least one photo released by the RTN shows a group of sailors wearing life vests and sitting in an inflatable raft.

A video released by the RTN shows a Royal Thai Naval Air Division Dornier 228 twin-turboprop transport aircraft arriving at U-Tapao Airport, to receive six wounded personnel. These were then brought to Queen Sirikit Hospital in Chonburi Province for treatment.

Of those that have been rescued so far, the RTN says that 11 crew have been taken for treatment at a local hospital while another 40 have been taken to a shelter. Three of the survivors are said to be in critical condition.

Reports in the Thai media state that the loss of the Sukhothai marks the first sinking of a Thai warship for any reason since World War II. The country’s last naval loss was the replenishment ship HTMS Samui, which was torpedoed by a U.S. Navy submarine off the Malaysian coast, in 1945, killing 31 sailors.

Commissioned in 1986, the Sukhothai was one of two Ratanakosin class corvettes that were built in the United States and are based on the Saudi Arabian Badr class design. The Thai vessels are typically used as flagships for squadrons of fast attack craft. Other corvettes in Thai service are the three U.K.-designed and locally built Khamronsin class vessels, plus two Tapi class corvettes also built in the United States.

The Ratanakosin class corvette Sukhothai (FS-442). RTN

With a displacement of 940 long tons fully loaded, the Ratanakosin class is a notably well-armed ship for its size, with two quadruple launchers for RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, an octuple launcher for 24 Aspide surface-to-air missiles, a single 76mm Otobreda gun, one twin 40mm gun mounting, two 20mm cannons, and a pair of triple torpedo tubes for Sting Ray torpedoes.

According to RTN spokesman Pokkrong Monthatphalin, the Sukhothai was on its way to attend a commemorative event to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the RTN’s founder, Prince Abhakara Kiartivongse, in Chonburi Province.

We will continue to update this story as the rescue operation unfolds.

Update, December 20, 3:00 am PST: The air and sea search for survivors from the HTMS Sukhothai continued on Tuesday, with 29 members of the crew still unaccounted for, according to the RTN. Press reports now state that the corvette was lost in the roughest seas seen in the Gulf of Thailand for a decade.

The latest toll of missing sailors provided by the RTN is an increase over the figure of 28 posted yesterday. Meanwhile, at least one more sailor has also been rescued in the last 24 hours. The sailor in question was picked up from the sea by the frigate HTMS Kraburi off Prachuap Khiri Khan, one of the western provinces of Thailand. The crew member was unconscious when taken from the water, with a head injury, at 2:15 pm local time today, and had reportedly been kept alive by his buoyancy vest.

HTMS Kraburi leaves the port at Bang Saphan Pier in Prachuap Khiri Khan on December 20, 2022, to resume the search operation for survivors after the sinking of HTMS Sukhothai. Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP via Getty Images

According to the RTN, the 106 personnel on board HTMS Sukhothai comprised around 70 navy sailors and approximately 30 marines and personnel from the Air and Coastal Defense Command.

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Thomas Newdick

Staff Writer

Thomas is a defense writer and editor with over 20 years of experience covering military aerospace topics and conflicts. He’s written a number of books, edited many more, and has contributed to many of the world’s leading aviation publications. Before joining The War Zone in 2020, he was the editor of AirForces Monthly.