In a tale of international solidarity and maritime mystery, the Royal Thai Navy, in an unexpected twist last month, paused the frantic bidding wars for a colossal salvage mission. This pause was not for recalibration, but because a gallant offer was extended by the Joint US Military Advisory Group Thailand (Jusmag Thai). They proposed not just to help investigate what led to the tragic descent of a ship but also to assist in salvaging the remnants of history that it carried.
The HTMS Sukhothai, a vessel that once majestically cruised the Gulf of Thailand, met its untimely fate in December 2022. Sinking beneath the waves, it took with it 29 brave souls who served aboard. This tragic event not only shook the naval community but also stirred a wave of global support to uncover what led to its demise and to honor those who were lost.
In a heartfelt announcement from the US Embassy in Bangkok, it was revealed that “The Royal Thai Navy and the United States Navy will jointly embark on a voyage back to where the HTMS Sukhothai rests. This mission, encapsulated within the grander scheme of Cobra Gold 2024, promises to be a tribute to the fallen and a beacon of hope for finding closure.”
The significance of this partnership radiates not just a commitment to unraveling the past but also a solemn vow to pay homage to the missing sailors. Together, both nations pledge to navigate the intricacies of this limited recovery mission with the utmost care and respect.
Admiral Adung Phan-iam, the stalwart Navy commander-in-chief, last month pondered the necessity of raising the Sukhothai from its watery grave. With a vision that transcends traditional salvage operations, he proposed an eternal memorial amidst the waves. This, he argued, would not only honour the legacy of those who vanished but also offer a relief from the financial burden of salvage operations, marrying pragmatism with reverence.
As the world watches, Cobra Gold 2024 is on the horizon, poised to be not just a routine military exercise but a symphony of international cooperation stretching from February 27 to March 10. Lopburi, Chanthaburi, Sa Kaeo, and Rayong — the provinces of Thailand will play host to a remarkable congregation of forces from seven nations. This year’s main actors on this stage of valor will include Thailand, the US, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and Malaysia, with China, Australia, and India contributing their efforts in humanitarian aid exercises from the wings.
The HTMS Sukhothai, a bastion of Thai naval prowess commissioned in June 1987, was overwhelmed by the furious might of nature off Prachuap Khiri Khan province on that fateful day in December 2022. High winds and fierce waves orchestrated a catastrophe, breaching the vessel and silencing its engines forever. Out of 105 souls aboard, 76 were plucked from the jaws of danger, 24 were sadly retrieved from the embrace of the sea, while five remain whispered names, lost to the depths and presumed to have joined the eternal rank of mariners.
As we stand on the brink of another Cobra Gold, the air is tinged with not just the spirit of camaraderie and strategic might but also with the solemn promise of remembrance and closure. It is a mission that transcends boundaries, waters, and hearts, embarking on a journey to bring peace to those who have been touched by tragedy and honor to those who deserve it most.