The reported incident, which happened in August and is absolutely denied by Beijing and Chinese officials, raises the issue of safety and confidence about the proposed purchase of a Chinese submarine for ฿13.5 billion by Thailand at a time when the contract has already been breached by China by its failure to deliver the specified German engines in the original agreement signed in 2017.
As Thailand’s PM gets ready for his trip to Beijing next week, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Parnpree Bahiddha-Nu-Kara, has already confirmed that there will be discussions on the kingdom’s troubled contract with China to buy an S26T Yuan class submarine for ฿13.5 billion which has already commenced production but which stalled when the Chinese shipyard failed to deliver a German-made engine. This week, a credible report of the loss of nearly the entire crew of a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine in the Yellow Sea, should warn Thailand of the risks posed to any country taking on from scratch submarine operations even though the proposed Chinese submarines for Thailand are diesel powered. The current deal is a compromise the Royal Thai Navy recommended after extensive discussions with Beijing earlier this year.
Beijing denies the accident linked with the Chinese sub. It is based on a British intelligence report published by some of the country’s top media sources.
Analysts have suggested that the incident shows the difficulties that navies experience dealing with nuclear-powered vessels and is coming as the Thai government has learned that the Chinese ship-builders in Shanghai cannot deliver the specified German MTU396 diesel powered engines in the original contract, which was an essential requirement of Thai naval planners.
Navy reluctantly agreed to a submarine with a Chinese-made engine, but PM Srettha Thavisin insists he and the cabinet retain the final say
The Royal Thai Navy, in recent months, had agreed to a replacement Chinese CHD620 engine accompanied by more robust warranties and a guarantee by the Chinese state.
Still, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has insisted he has the final say in the matter.
The proposed purchase also comes in the wake of last year’s disaster when the HTMS Sukhothai, a corvette, sank in a severe storm in the Gulf of Thailand near Prachuap Khiri Khan on Sunday, December 18th which saw dozens of lives lost with military analysts, this week, pointing to a steep learning curve associated with the operation of nuclear-powered submarines by other world navies included those of the United States and Russia.
This week, classified intelligence reports from UK spy services published by the British media, including newspapers such as The Sun and the Daily Mail, reported a significant incident aboard a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine which is believed to have become ensnared in a trap laid by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy for US nuclear-powered submarines using anchors and chains in the Yellow Sea.
A diver was sent from the vessel with 56 crew aboard to disentangle the craft but returned to a lifeless submarine with all aboard having perished.
55 aboard died from lack of oxygen or hypoxia after what is believed to be catastrophic damage dealing with an underwater snare laid by its own navy
The marginal sea is located between mainland China and North Korea in the Western Pacific Ocean.
It is understood that the submarine has been recovered but China’s navy lost 55 people aboard suffering from hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen, which the intelligence reports state occurred due to a system’s failure aboard the Chinese-made submarine.
The vessel’s air and oxygen systems appear to have suffered catastrophic failure following an initial accident, which led the crew to become involved in a protracted struggle or operation to save the sub.
This happened while the lone surviving diver was outside the vessel.
The intelligence reports stated the cause of the emergency was the impact and complications caused by man-made underwater obstacles laid as a snare by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy for US vessels.
The submarine’s identity was given as 093417, captained by Colonel Xue Yong-Peng, who was lost with most of the vessel’s crew and other official personnel.
Authorities in Beijing deny the reports
The story of the submarine disaster has been denied vehemently by the Communist Party in Beijing and Chinese Ministry of Defence officials, with no comment on the incident coming from the United Kingdom or Japan in addition to Taiwan, which closely monitors the activities of the People’s Liberation Army PLA Navy.
US news magazine Newsweek also reported the loss of life on the nuclear-powered submarine in the last 72 hours.
Even if the story is true, analysts suggest that officials in China are highly unlikely to confirm it.
The incident occured at the end of August and the report has been repeatedly refuted by Chinese officials although changes at the highest ranks in China’s naval personnel followed.
If true, the news will be devastating for the image of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, which is to the fore of China’s aggressive foreign policy
The loss of nearly all the submarine crew will raise questions about the capability of China’s navy, which is integral to Beijing’s aggressive foreign policy, including its expansive and controversial claims over the South China Sea and its stated goal to retake Taiwan forcibly.
ASEAN community in Southeast Asia pressurised by rising US-Chinese tensions with disputes between member nations and Beijing over the South China Sea
In recent months, speculation has been growing regarding a possible strike by China on Taiwan in the short to medium term, particularly during 2024 and before the next US Presidential election.
Relations between the United States and its close Western allies and China have already reached historically low levels, not least over Taiwan, with a controversial visit to the island by former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August last year, leading to the most aggressive military drills off the island by Chinese armed forces ever seen.
Flight of former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in August 2022 will go down in history as a seminal moment exposing China’s internal jingoism
One of the theories gaining ground among analysts is that China, without yet resorting to an armed invasion of Taiwan, may, at some point, implement a complete blockade of the island to strangle it economically and demonstrate its military superiority, a move which analysts are calculating how the United States might respond to with the possibility of airlifts and an emergency supply of the island from the Pacific being suggested.
Rising speculation that China may launch a sea blockade of Taiwan to bring the growing crisis over the self-ruled and independent state to a head
The predicted move by China would also see a world crisis develop, allowing Beijing to test the resolve of the United States and the West while also helping to chastise the Taiwanese leadership.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could also use such a move as a prelude to an invasion of Taiwan, now openly considered likely by top officials in Taipei.
Military analysts, including former US armed services personnel and serving officers with the Indian armed forces, over the last 96 hours, have been commenting on the speculation concerning the Chinese submarine accident, with it being pointed out that the ability of any navy to learn confidently and proficiently how to operate nuclear-powered submarines takes time and often involves mishap or disaster.
Russia has a long history of nuclear submarine accidents and mishaps which have seen hundreds killed, but the United States Navy also had problems
The overwhelming majority of accidents involved breakdowns in nuclear reactors and were recorded among Russian and former Soviet vessels, with the loss of hundreds of crew members.
The United States Navy is no stranger to incidents concerning its nuclear-powered subs, with the USS Connecticut, a Sea Wolf class submarine, getting into difficulty after a crash in the South China Sea in October 2021.
The US submarine suffered extensive damage and will not be able to be redeployed to active duty again until 2026.
It is unclear what happened in October 2021.
It is thought the $3 billion US vessel hit an underwater sea obstacle, believed to be a physical obstacle caused by the terrain or an undersea mountain.
Even before this, going back to the dawn of nuclear-powered submarines, on April 10th, 1963, the USS Thresher, while conducting deep-diving tests, sank 350 km off Cape Cod, with the loss of all 129 souls, including crew and personnel from a shipyard aboard.
Two nuclear-powered US submarines lie over 2 km below the Atlantic Ocean, one of which had its nuclear warheads aboard when it sank in May 1968
Over five years later, in May 1968, the USS Scorpion, a skipjack class nuclear-powered submarine, was also lost in the Atlantic with all its nuclear warheads on board.
Both nuclear-powered submarines have never been recovered from the bottom of the ocean and are believed to have fallen to depths of more than 2 km.
UK media reports refer to a verified UK defence or intelligence report confirming the accident involving the Chinese submarine.
The report suggests an emergency that lasted 6 hours until catastrophic failure or damage caused the oxygen system in the vessel to fail, leading to the deaths of nearly all on board.
It is understood that among the 55 people on board who died on the nuclear-powered submarine, 22 were senior officers with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy.