Relatives despair as search continues for missing Thai marines

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Hopes faded on Wednesday among relatives of Thai marines still missing after their warship sank off the country’s central coast, even as military-led rescue teams expanded their search area.

Just one of a group of 30 missing seamen has been found alive after the HTMS Sukhothai went down late on Sunday when it was knocked over by four-meter (13 ft) waves and strong winds, and six other bodies have been retrieved.

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The US-made corvette was carrying 105 military personnel, many of whom were rescued as or soon after it sank, while others had to abandon ship without life jackets and went missing in rough seas.

The navy and air force mobilized five planes, six helicopters, and at least four warships to find the missing sailors.

“We expect to find more [of the missing] today...We are not able to predict if those found will be alive,” navy spokesperson, Admiral Pogkrong Monthardpalin, told broadcaster ThaiPBS, adding weather conditions and visibility had improved.

The vessel sank about 20 nautical miles from the coast of Prachuap Khiri Khan province, and authorities on Wednesday expanded the search area to cover 40 square kilometers (15.4 square miles), Pogkrong said.

The navy said on Twitter that search efforts were focused on the area where others had been found on Tuesday.

Families awaited news at rescue centers onshore, but some were already grieving as rescue teams flew in the recovered bodies.

“I want them [the navy] to take care of all the soldiers like their own family. I don’t want to see any more losses in this kind of incident again,” said Nawarat Phobat, sister of a deceased marine.

Separately, there were also concerns that damage to the HTMS Sukhothai, which had been in service since 1987, could cause its fuel to spill into the Gulf of Thailand, navy spokesperson Pogkrong said.

“We are closely monitoring the area of the ship and so far there has been no leakage,” he said, adding a team was being assembled to safely salvage the ship.

Military accidents in Thailand usually involve aircraft and wrecks of Thai ships are rare. Including the HTMS Sukhothai, Thailand’s navy has lost four warships in the 116 years since its founding.

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