HTMS Khirirat was struck by artillery fire from HTMS Chonburi, injuring 13 sailors. The incident at Sattahip Naval Base has already triggered an urgent investigation order by top brass.

An accidental discharge by a turret cannon from one naval vessel to another on Thursday left thirteen naval personnel injured, two of them seriously. The incident occurred as engineers were working on the cannon turret of the frigate HTMS Chonburi at Sattahip Naval base. It returned early from naval exercises after the 76mm gun failed to fire. A projectile or shell was understood to be stuck in the breech. However, at mid-morning on Thursday, it appeared to fire the shell into the hull of HTMS Khirirat, another frigate which it had docked behind.

Scenes from Thursday morning at Laem Thian Pier with the Sattahip naval base in Chonburi. A 76mm cannon shell from HTMS Chonburi, a frigate, discharged into another frigate HTMS Khirirat. Reports suggests 13 injuries with a number of those being serious. However, a full statement is still awaited from the Royal Thai Navy relating to the incident.

Emergency services at Thailand’s Sattahip Navy Base in Chonburi scrambled on Thursday at Laem Thian Pier.

HTMS Khirirat, a Royal Thai Navy frigate, was hit by artillery fire from HTMS Chonburi, resulting in a fire and injuries to 13 sailors.

The mishap occurred at Sattahip Naval Base in Chonburi Province. Two personnel are reported to have sustained serious injuries.

50-year-old frigate left listing to port. It was evidently damaged by an unexpected discharge from the turret cannon of the other naval frigate behind it

The frigate was left listing lightly to port after the discharge.

At around 11:50 a.m. on March 14, 2024, an artillery shot from HTMS Chonburi struck HTMS Khirirat while both vessels were docked at Laem Thian Pier.

The impact caused a fire onboard the frigate, prompting a rapid response from firefighters to douse the flames.

Initial reports indicated that at least three individuals sustained injuries, with one in critical condition. The injured personnel were promptly attended to and transported to Apakorn Kiatwong Hospital.

Naval officials revealed that HTMS Chonburi had recently returned from a firing drill and was undergoing repairs due to a malfunctioning artillery piece. 

Chaotic scene at the navy’s main base on Thursday as emergency services responded to both the fire and reported injuries on the stricken HTMS Khirirat

Unfortunately, an unexpended round still in its port inadvertently discharged, leading to the unfortunate incident.

The scene at Sattahip Naval Base was chaotic as firefighters battled the blaze aboard HTMS Khirirat. The vessel, part of the 1st Frigate Fleet, has served the Royal Thai Navy for 50 years and boasts capabilities in air, surface, and underwater combat.

Other naval personnel on the base were prohibited from the scene as emergency services responded. Injured sailors were reported with many suffering from smoke inhalation issues. The fire services sprayed foam on an outbreak on the stricken vessel.

The injured sailors, including Chief Petty Officer First Class Surinya Nitboonkrong and Petty Officer First Class Jakarin Thongmanee. They were swiftly transported to Sirikit Hospital for more advanced treatment.

Urgent investigation ordered into what looks like an unfortunate friendly fire accident. HTMS Khirirat was built in the United States from 1972 to 1974

Admiral Adung Phan-iam, Commander of the Royal Thai Navy, wasted no time in ordering an urgent investigation into the incident. Meanwhile, efforts to contain the fire and provide medical assistance to the injured continued.

The cause of the accidental discharge and subsequent fire is under enquiry. In brief, naval authorities are working to ascertain the sequence of events that led to the shell discharge. 

The HTMS Khirirat was built in the United States by the Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drydock Corporation. Its keel was laid in 1972 and it went into active service in 1974.

Part of the Thai Frigate fleet, it has weapons capability to fight at sea while also targeting underwater craft and aircraft. Its weapons capabilities includes cannon, automatic machine guns and depth grenade dischargers.

The shot that appears to have been discharged from the HTMS Chonburi came from a 76 mm turret cannon. 

Vessel hit by HTMS Chonburi returned for repairs. Accident comes as questions are already being asked about the Thai navy and defence plans in parliament

At length, the news from the Sattahip Naval base is that the cannon failed to fire while on sea exercises.

The frigate consequently returned to the base, docking behind HTMS Khirirat. Afterwards, engineers were at work trying to dislodge the unfired shell when it discharged.

However, at this time, there has been no confirmation from the Royal Thai Navy as to what happened.

The accident in Sattahip comes over two years after the HTMS Sukhothai, sunk on December 18th 2021.

This was a corvette also built in the United States. The incident happened in the Gulf of Thailand off Prachuap Khiri Khan amid stormy weather.

29 personnel aboard lost their lives including 5 still unaccounted for.

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The sinking of the Sukhothai together with the controversial procurement of a Chinese Yuan class S26T submarine has put the spotlight on the Thai navy. 

Questions are being asked, particularly in parliament, about who should take responsibility for the Sukhothai disaster. In addition, the naval procurement drive is still bogged down by the stalled submarine project with China.

At the same time, its leadership argues that it urgently needs to replace aged vessels. 

Navy’s role with rising geopolitical tensions at sea

Indeed, the Navy, even more so than the Air Force or the Army, finds itself indirectly dealing with dangerous geopolitical tensions.

In particular, Thailand’s diplomatic dance between the United States and China in the region.

China already has a prospective naval presence in the Gulf of Thailand.

According to US intelligence, there is a clandestine facility within Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base. In short, on Thailand’s doorstep.

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At the same time, there is growing discord over the South China Sea, especially concerning the Philippines and Taiwan.

Experts increasingly agree that the rising intensity and belligerence of such disputes are bringing the prospect of war closer.

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Further reading:

Move by Navy Chief puts Chinese sub back in the water as he seeks legal clarity on the contract

Thailand cancels Chinese sub, wants credit for a new frigate. Tense talks that could yet go legal

Chinese nuclear-powered sub disaster, 55 dead in the Yellow Sea, a wakeup call for Thailand

Navy may accept Chinese engine in new ฿13.5 billion sub if it gets an older one thrown in for free

Sub call due soon but closer ties between Chinese and Thai navies signalled by top-level visit

War with China is a rising spectre that must be confronted as US General predicts conflict by 2025

Heat turned up over the Sukhothai naval tragedy with 19 thought to have perished and 10 missing

Former Pheu Thai finance minister expresses unease about US regional moves to counter China’s rise