A radar dome and an empty life raft, believed to belong to the ill-fated HTMS Sukhothai, have been found drifting at sea off Chumphon Province by Thai fishermen, as the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) intensifies its air and sea search for the 23 missing crew on the fourth consecutive day today (Thursday).

A fisheries official from Lamae district, Ratree Chantharat, informed the district chief officer on Thursday morning that she had received a radio report from the skipper of a trawler that a radar dome had been found drifting at sea, near the border of Lamae and Lang Suan districts, and they expected to tow it to the Lang Suan coast this evening.

Another trawler reported the finding of a life raft, with the words “HTMS Sukhothai No 3”, printed on it, between 20 and 30 kilometres from the coast of Lamae district.

Also found on the raft were a pack of medicines and a cell phone, with its back cover removed. The raft and the two items were retrieved from the sea and are expected to be returned to shore in 1-2 days, because the trawler has not yet completed its fishing and retrieval of its fishing equipment.

Vice Admiral Pichai Lorchusakul, commander of the First Naval Area Command, said today that four ships, five helicopters and two fixed-wing aircraft took part in the search and rescue operations on the high seas today.

Meanwhile, vessels from the Second Naval Area Command, and the Fisheries and Marine and Coastal Resources departments, private volunteers and private rescue foundations have joined the search operation, concentrating on coastal areas, with foot patrols along the shoreline in Chumphon province.

Vice Admiral Pichai said that the focus now has been altered to search along the coastline and the search teams are racing against time to locate the missing crew.

He also said that naval divers on board the Bang Rachan ship had been sent to survey the sunken HTMS Sukhothai, which lies at a depth of about 40 metres, adding that information from the divers might reveal whether there are any crew members trapped in the foundered ship.

From mapping information, provided by the Hydrographic Department, the missing crew might be drifting at sea off Chumphon province, and on towards Surat Thani.

With the improvement in weather conditions, he expects more progress in the search operations.

The House Military Affairs Committee has invited Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as the defence minister, and RTN Commander-in-Chief Admiral Choengchai Chomchoengpaet, to testify to the committee about the tragic incident.

The committee chairman, Kriangsak Faisingam, said that the panel has a few questions to ask the two men.

The first is who should be held responsible, the defence minister or the naval commander-in-chief, for ordering the HTMS to sea, despite the bad weather. Was it a miscalculation or lack of information about the weather conditions?

The next question concerns how the tragedy happened, despite there being about 1.2 billion baht allocated for ship maintenance.

Finally, the committee wants to know whether HTMS Sukhothai was overloaded, as there were 105 men on board, and why there were insufficient life vests for everyone.

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