Royal Thai Navy Completes Investigation into Sunk Frigate

Divers exploring a shipwreck
Updated Published

The Royal Thai Navy has concluded its investigation into the 2022 sinking of the frigate Sukhothai, attributing the disaster to adverse weather, the ship's condition, and human error.

On December 18, 2022, the 36-year-old Sukhothai faced severe weather conditions approximately 20 miles from Bang Saphan, Thailand. Faced with continuing to Bang Saphan, which lacked assist tugs, the commanding officer decided to turn the ship around to head back to the naval base at Chon Buri, on the opposite side of the Gulf of Thailand.

As the weather deteriorated, the Sukhothai encountered wave heights of around 20 feet, lost power, and began to flood. The ship's pumps were overwhelmed, and rough sea conditions prevented response vessels from transferring additional salvage pumps. Eventually, the frigate experienced progressive flooding and capsized at 00:12, resulting in the sinking.

The incident led to the rescue of 76 survivors, 18 of whom required hospitalization. The bodies of 24 deceased crew members were recovered, and five others remain unaccounted for at sea.

Further examination by divers from both the Royal Thai Navy and the U.S. Navy revealed structural damage to the vessel. Notably, the wave breaker in front of the main cannon had detached, creating a one-inch hole on the deck, and the gun turret showed signs of damage from an unknown object.

There were also significant penetrations on the port side above the waterline and issues with unsecured hatches that could exacerbate flooding during harsh conditions.

The investigation also criticized the commanding officer's decision to return to Chon Buri rather than proceeding to the nearer Bang Saphan, labeling the decision as rushed and lacking careful consideration.

Captain Pichitchai Tuannadee, the commanding officer at the time, admitted the decision was his but maintained that it was made with the best intentions to safeguard the ship. Tuannadee resigned from his position during a press conference, stating his departure would uphold the honor of his office. He will undergo a 15-day punitive detention before his resignation takes effect.

The Thai government initially considered salvaging the wreck of the Sukhothai but ultimately deemed the operation too costly and hazardous. Instead, it has collaborated with U.S. Navy salvage experts to safely remove the frigate's weaponry, munitions, and sensitive materials.