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Search continues for missing crew of Thai warship

A race against time continued in the Gulf of Thailand on Tuesday as rescuers searched for 24 crew still missing from the HTMS Sukhothai corvette. Two sailors were saved and four found dead earlier in the day, the Thai Navy said.

“We found six seamen, four dead and two alive,” Navy chief Adm. Choengchai Chomchoengpaet told a press conference on Tuesday. 

The corvette capsized and sank in rough seas off Prachuap Khiri Khan province on Monday with 105 crew on board. 

The Navy initially said there were 106 crew, all considered safe, but it was revealed later that the number was 105 and only 75 sailors were rescued with 30 still missing.

Among the 105 crew, about 70 are navy sailors, the rest are marines and staff from the regional Air and Coastal Defense Command.

One of the two men rescued Tuesday was unconscious with a head injury when the frigate HTMS Kraburi pulled him from the water, Royal Thai Fleet Commander Adm. Adung Pan-iam was quoted by local media as saying.

The Navy said it hoped the remaining crew were still alive and “will continue our search day by day until we find them,” Adm. Adung was quoted as saying.

Another commander, Vice Adm. Pichai Lorchusakul, suggested that the Navy only has 48 hours to save the men’s lives.

Rough seas

The Sukhothai’s engines and power generators failed after suffering severe flooding while being struck by 2-4 meter waves (6.5-13 foot) waves about 20 miles (32 kilometers) offshore on Sunday, officials said.

The Navy sent a ship to rescue the crew but it could not get close to them because of the rough seas. A cargo ship had also sunk over the weekend in nearby waters.

Heavy rains and strong waves are expected to last until Dec. 20 in the area, according to the Thai Meteorological Department.

Fifteen of the 75 rescued men are being treated for broken bones.

The HTMS Sukhothai (FSG-442) is one of the two Ratanakosin-class corvettes built in the U.S. during the 1980s. It was commissioned into the Royal Thai Navy in 1987.

The fast-attack ship was named after Thailand’s first kingdom of Sukhothai.

It is the first Thai navy ship to sink in nearly eight decades dating back to World War II.

Before that the replenishment ship HTMS Samui sank after being struck by a U.S. torpedo near Malaysia in 1945, killing 31 sailors, according to Thai media.

Four years earlier, the French Navy attacked Thai ships during the Franco-Thai War, sinking two ships and heavily damaging a third.

Wilawan Watcharasakwet and Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok contributed to this story.

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