Thai naval officials said Tuesday there were not enough life jackets for everyone aboard a warship that sank early Monday in bad 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, Royal Thai Navy Commander-in-Chief Adm. Cherngchai Chomcherngpat said at a press 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 on board because the ship was taking part in a salute to the founder of the Thai navy, the admiral said, adding: “Normally more life jackets should be added for the extra officers.”
The crew was “fully aware of the problem of not having enough life jackets for 30 additional officers. They tried to use other tools that could save the lives of the officers who did not have life jackets,” the admiral said.
Some of those without life jackets tried to escape in inflatable rafts, some of which were stored aboard the corvette and some of which were dropped by rescue helicopters and other vessels.
Of the 30 people without life jackets, 18 have been rescued and the rest are still missing, the admiral said.
“With or without a life jacket (it) doesn’t affect the odds of survival,” he added.
He said the ship sank after seawater entered and disabled its power systems.
The waves were 3 to 4 meters (10 feet to 13 feet) high at the time and the water temperature was about 29 degrees Celsius (84 degrees Fahrenheit).
Water entered the front 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 attempted to lower water pumps onto the ship, but efforts were thwarted as it began to list heavily.
The admiral rejected a suggestion that the nearly 40-year-old ship may not have been in adequate shape to handle high seas, saying it had been upgraded several times in recent years.