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HTMS Sukhothai: Thai warship that sank, killing 6, had too few life jackets, admiral says

Bangkok, Thailand

Thai navy officials said on Tuesday there were not enough life jackets for everyone aboard a warship that sank early Monday in bad weather in the Gulf of Thailand, leaving the minus six dead.

Twenty-three people are still missing after the sinking of the corvette HTMS Sukhothai, while 76 people have been rescued, said Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Navy Adm. Cherngchai Chomcherngpat at a press conference.

The ship was carrying 105 people at the time of the sinking, 30 more than usual, and there were not enough life jackets for everyone, Cherngchai said.

The extra officers were on board because the ship was taking part in a tribute to the founder of the Thai Navy, the admiral said, adding: “Normally more life jackets need to be added for the extra officers.”

The crew was “fully aware of the problem of not having enough life jackets for 30 additional officers. They tried to use other tools that could save the lives of officers who didn’t have life jackets,” the admiral said.

Some of those without life jackets attempted to escape on inflatable rafts, some of which were stored aboard the corvette and some of which were dropped by rescue helicopters and other vessels.

Of the 30 people without life jackets, 18 were rescued and the others are still missing, the admiral said.

“With or without a life jacket (it) does not affect the chances of survival,” he added.

He said the ship sank after seawater entered and disabled its power systems.

The waves were between 3 and 4 meters (10 feet to 13 feet) high at the time, and the water temperature was around 29 degrees Celsius (84 degrees Fahrenheit).

Water entered the forward section of the 252-foot (76.8-meter) long warship around 8:45 p.m. Sunday, Cherngchai said.

The flooding continued for more than three hours, eventually disabling the ship’s engine and electrical systems and dooming efforts to pump it out.

Helicopter rescue crews attempted to lower the water pumps towards the ship, but the efforts were thwarted as it began to tilt steeply.

The admiral dismissed a suggestion that the nearly 40-year-old ship might not have been fit for the high seas, saying it had been modernized several times in recent years.

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