Opposition threatening to bring Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, who is also the Minister of Defence, before a House of Representatives committee to be grilled on the HTMS Sukhothai disaster at sea. It now looks increasingly likely that 29 lives have been lost in the incident with 10 still thought to be missing.
MPs in the House of Representatives are pushing this week to grill Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha in his capacity as Minister of Defence and the commander of the Royal Thai Navy on the sinking and loss of life aboard the HTMS Sukhothai which went down on December 18th last in stormy seats in the Gulf of Thailand. On Monday, it is understood that 19 of those aboard the vessel at the time are thought to have died in the incident while 10 are still not accounted for with 76 survivors. On Monday, the Commander and Chief of the Royal Thai Navy Admiral Choengchai Chomchoengpaet announced the navy’s own panel to investigate the incident including the readiness of the ship when it put to sea on the fateful weekend and the decisions taken in the lead-up to the vessel foundering, capsizing and ultimately sinking in stormy waters off the coast.
Pressure is mounting on the government and the Royal Thai Navy to fully account for the sinking of the HTMS Sukhothai in a severe storm in the Gulf of Thailand near Prachuap Khiri Khan on Sunday, December 18th last.
On Monday, the Royal Thai Navy Chief Admiral Choengchai Chomchoengpaet signed an order establishing several committees to begin an investigation into the tragedy including one panel to investigate the sequence of events which led the ship to run into difficulties, capsize and sink over a week ago.
House of Representatives committee plans to grill top officials including the PM on the naval disaster
It comes as a committee on military matters in the House of Representatives, led by the opposition Pheu Thai Party, has called on the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Prayut Chan ocha as well as Admiral Choengchai to appear before it to answer questions relating to the affair.
On Monday, the navy confirmed that an expanded search is still ongoing to locate what is now thought to be 10 who were aboard the vessel still unaccounted for as the as-yet unconfirmed body of another was brought ashore in Prachuap Khiri Khan.
The search is being led by a flotilla of vessels including the HTMS Naresuan, HTMS Taksin, HTMS Kraburi, HTMS Narathiwat, Boat Tor 114 and Boat Tor 270 as well as assets of the army, air force, the Royal Thai Police and other government agencies in a search that has been extended to Surat Thani and Chumphon provinces with seven key zones being swept in a methodical and coordinated fashion in a last-ditch attempt to locate any possible survivors at sea with hope now almost extinct.
19 dead and 10 people on board the HTMS Sukhothai still unaccounted for, soon to be presumed dead also
The Royal Thai Navy has confirmed 18 people have died in the disaster which could rise to 19 if today’s body is confirmed as a crew member.
This would leave 10 more missing and 76 rescued from the sunken ship.
It now looks like 29 people may have lost their life.
On Monday morning, Admiral Prakan Monthat Phlin, a spokesman for the navy, before confirming the latest numbers of dead and unaccounted for, briefed reporters on the investigative panels that were being set up by order of the Commander and Chief Admiral Choengchai.
He said that two sub-committees would be formed to look at the readiness of the ship when it set sail on the weekend of the incident and secondly, the operation of the ship leading up to the disaster which befell it.
It comes with indications that, at some point shortly, the search for survivors will be called off as key officials and naval commanders attend a series of funeral rites for those who perished in the tragedy.
Ship capsized after it began to take water into the engine room which knocked out electricity generators thus cutting power to the engines in stormy seas
It is understood from preliminary reports that the vessel, a naval corvette built in the United States in 1987, capsized when high waves caused water to enter the engineering room area knocking out electricity generators and consequently shutting down engines along with the vessel’s thrust in stormy seas.
This led to the navy ship foundering and capsizing further before it eventually sank beneath the water while at an acute angle to the sea.
Mr Prasert Chanthararuangthong, an advisor to the House of Representatives committee, which is to probe the sinking of the HTMS Sukhothai later this week, confirmed that it intends to summon the navy chief and Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha as Minister of Defence concerning the affair.
House Committee to focus on the application of maintenance funds for the warship and lack of vests
The Secretary-general of the opposition Pheu Thai Party said it appears that an adequate budget allocation had been provided by parliament for the maintenance and upkeep of the naval ship.
He said members of the committee wanted to know more about safety standards on board the ship and in particular who decided to put to sea in stormy conditions which saw other sea-going craft on the same day sink, also with loss of life.
The committee wished to probe the events that led up to the warship capsizing so quickly and also examine reports of a lack of life jackets.
‘If the conditions were terrible, why was going out to sea insisted upon? A ship at this level must have had a system to pump out any water, but when it listed, it capsized and sank easily,’ Mr Prasert Chanthararuangthong, an MP for Nakhon Ratchasima observed.
A possible breach of international safety convention
A key adviser to the House of Representatives military committee, Mr Thaikorn Polsuwan, called on Dr Cholnan Srikaew, the leader of the Pheu Thai Party to have his party ask searching questions as to the disbursement of the maintenance budget provided for the ship and the monitoring of this budget given what happened on December 18th.
He was highly critical of the situation regarding the lack of life vests for all those aboard the naval vessel in stormy waters at the time of the incident.
‘The navy must comply with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. There must be enough life jackets for those on board a ship,’ he insisted.
Dr Cholnan, on Thursday last, raised the issue in parliament and it was reported on the same day that General Prayut tasked naval chiefs at a meeting of Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) to provide a full account of the incident to his office.
‘Someone must be held responsible,’ declared Dr Cholnan.