A survivor and five bodies have been pulled from the sea two days after a Thai warship sank in rough seas over the weekend.
Hopes are fading meanwhile for two dozen people who remain missing following the tragedy, as navy officials acknowledged there were not enough life jackets for all those aboard.
The HTMS Sukhothai, a corvette in service for 35 years, sank on Sunday night with 105 people on board.
The Thai navy confirmed one survivor, identified as Chananyu Kansriya, and five bodies were recovered from the sea on Tuesday about 60km (37 miles) from where the ship sank.
Chananyu was found floating in the sea around 3pm and was picked up by a passing cargo ship, said the navy’s Chief of Staff.
He was transferred to a navy frigate which was due to bring him back to shore.
Vice Adm. Pichai Lorchusakul, commander of the 1st Naval Area Command, told reporters Chananyu was in a weak condition and would receive medical treatment on the frigate, which has facilities akin to a mobile hospital.
It is understood 76 people have now been rescued following the tragedy, while five have been found dead and 24 remain unaccounted for.
Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Chonlathis Navanugraha said Chananyu and the five bodies were discovered along with some debris on Tuesday were found about 60km (37 miles) from where the ship sank.
He added that Britain, the US and Malaysia have offered to help in the search.
Vice Adm. Pichai Lorchusaku was quoted by the Thai Rath newspaper as saying search efforts had been accelerated, but the missing could not be expected to survive in the sea for longer than two days.
Chonlathis was slightly more optimistic. “We still have hope,” he said. “Judging from the direction of the water and the wind, it is blowing toward the beach. That is good luck. We continue to search with hope.”
The navy has launched four large ships, two maritime patrol aircraft, two helicopters and a drone, while the air force has contributed one plane and one helicopter.
Small boats could not be used because the sea remained extremely choppy, navy officers said.
The search is gradually moving south to take into account the currents, a commander of one of the rescue ships told Thai PBS television.
Strong winds and high waves caused seawater to enter the ship on Sunday evening, knocking out its electrical system and making control of the ship virtually impossible.
Other naval vessels rushed to the scene, about 20 miles (32km) offshore, to try to assist the stricken vessel but could not do much because of the poor sea conditions. Because the ship could not be controlled, more water entered, causing it to list and sink.
Thailand’s Meteorological Department had issued a weather advisory for the general area just a few hours before the accident, saying that waves in the Gulf of Thailand were expected to be two to four metres (seven to 14 feet) high. It suggested that all ships “proceed with caution” and warned small craft not to go to sea until Tuesday.
Survivors interviewed by Thai television said there were not enough life jackets because the ship was carrying guests in addition to its normal crew, which the navy website said was 87 sailors and officers.
Navy Commander Cherngchai said about 30 people from the Marine Corps and Air and Coastal Defense Command were aboard the ship, resulting in the shortage of life jackets. He said 18 people without life jackets had been rescued.
Cherngchai said all aspects of the sinking and the provision of life jackets will be investigated.
Earlier Tuesday, Vice Admiral Pichai was confronted at one of the rescue centers by a woman who said she was the mother of one of the missing sailors.
“My son called me with his friend’s phone when the ship started to sink,” she said in an exchange captured on video. “He said he did not get a life jacket and only a life buoy. As a parent, when I heard this, my heart was broken. If there were not enough life jackets, how much hope can you give me?”