Thai naval officials said Tuesday there were not enough life jackets for everyone aboard a warship that sank early Monday in severe weather in the Gulf of Thailand with the loss of at least six lives.
Twenty-three people remain missing after the sinking of the corvette HTMS Sukhothai, while 76 people have been rescued, commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Navy Adm. Cherngchai Chomcherngpat told a news 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 all of them, Cherngchai said.
The extra officers were aboard because the ship was taking part in a salute to the founder of the Thai navy, the admiral said, adding: “Normally more life jackets must be added for additional officers.”
The crew were “fully aware about the problem of not having enough life jackets for 30 additional officers. They tried to use other tools which could save the lives of officers who didn’t have life jackets,” the admiral said.
Some of those without life jackets tried to escape on inflatable rafts, some of which were stored aboard the corvette and some of which were dropped by rescue helicopters and other ships.
Of the 30 people without life jackets, 18 have been rescued and the rest are still missing, the admiral said.
“With or without life jacket (it) doesn’t affect the odds of surviving,” he added.
He said the ship sank after seawater entered and disabled its power systems.
Waves were between 3 and 4 meters (10 feet to 13 feet) high at the time and the water temperature was about 29 degrees Celsius (84 degress Fahrenheit).
Water entered the front portion 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.
Rescue teams in helicopters tried to lower water pumps to the ship but the efforts were thwarted as it began to tilt heavily.
The admiral dismissed a suggestion that the almost 40-year-old ship might not have been in proper shape to handle the high seas, saying it had been upgraded several times in recent years.