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12 April 2024

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Officials of the Royal Thai Navy said the commanding officer of a naval ship that sank in bad weather in late 2022 had taken “imprudent” actions that resulted in the ship’s loss along with at least 24 of its crew.

An investigation revealed that Captain Phichitchai Thueannadee, commanding officer of the corvette HTMS SUKHOTHAI FS 442 had decided not to dock at the nearest port even after his ship was tossed about in heavy waves in the Gulf of Thailand off Prachuap Khiri Khan province late in the evening (local time) of December 18, 2022.

Officials said the corvette was capable of withstanding wave heights of up to 2.5 metres. However, the sea conditions on the night of the incident were worse than initially anticipated, with waves reaching as high as six metres and causing damage to some parts of the ship. The hull suffered ruptures in various points, which led to water ingress as the weather in the area worsened.

The ship then listed more than 60 degrees to port and lost all power, causing her to drift and eventually sink to a depth of 40 metres. Only 76 of the corvette‘s crew including the Commanding Officer were rescued. In addition to the 24 confirmed fatalities, another five personnel are presumed dead as their bodies were never found.

The navy said that prior to the corvette listing, Phichitchai was unaware of the extent of the damage suffered by the ship and therefore ordered her to return to Sattahip Naval Base in Chonburi province instead of docking at the Bang Saphan port in nearby Prachuap Khiri Khan. The navy added that Bang Saphan was closer to the corvette  at the time but the port did not have an adequate number of tugs to allow the corvette to safely dock amid strong waves.

Navy officials clarified that Phichitchai would not face a civil lawsuit in connection with the sinking. However, local police said they are studying the possibility of filing criminal charges against the captain.

Phichitchai has accepted responsibility for the corvette’s loss and said that he will resign his commission.

Timeline image by Royal Thai Navy

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