U.S. Objects to Chinese Contractor in Thai Warship Salvage Team

U.S. warns Thai Navy on warship salvage amid China collaboration concerns; Thai Navy seeks 199M baht bid approval.
  • Defensemirror.com bureau
  • 06:07 AM, January 29, 2024
  • 557
U.S. Objects to Chinese Contractor in Thai Warship Salvage Team
HTMS Sukhothai Rattanakosin-class corvette sank during a storm off the coast of Prachuap Khiri Khan in Dec. 2022.

The Joint United States Military Advisory Group Thailand (Jusmagthai) has issued a second warning to the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) regarding salvage operations on the U.S.-built HTMS Sukhothai, which sank in the Gulf of Thailand on December 18, 2022.

Chayaphon Satondee, Move Forward Party MP for Bangkok and a member of an extraordinary House committee reviewing the 2024 budget bill, revealed documents submitted by Jusmagthai during a parliamentary debate on January 25. Jusmagthai, responsible for overseeing military trade between Thailand and the U.S., expressed concerns in their communication with the RTN about the ongoing salvage operations.

According to Chayaphon, the document sent by Jusmagthai stated that the RTN has yet to respond to U.S. concerns despite the passage of time since the incident occurred.

The initial warning letter was submitted in January 2023, but the RTN has not officially informed the U.S. about the incident. The second letter, sent on December 1, 2023, reiterated the U.S.'s position and urged the RTN to adhere to the agreement. The concern arose following reports that the RTN intended to select a Thai contractor with ties to China for the salvage operation.

Chayaphon emphasized that the RTN is obligated to obtain third-party transfer approval from the U.S. government for the selected contractor. Failure to do so, he noted, would result in a violation of agreements affecting foreign military sales between Thailand and the U.S.

Navy chief Adm Adung Phan-iam stated that the navy is currently working on resolving the situation. There are considerations that involving the U.S. in the salvage operation might cause delays from the originally scheduled timeline set for April.

In response, the navy has identified a bid winner for the salvage operation, with a budget of approximately 199 million baht, pending approval. Meanwhile, ACM Chanon Mungthanya, deputy commander-in-chief, representing his commander-in-chief, welcomed Adm John C Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Both parties expressed a commitment to strengthen military ties, particularly in the upcoming annual joint Cobra Gold military exercise scheduled for February, showcasing ongoing cooperation between the two nations.

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