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Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC)

MDSU-1 and Royal Thai Navy divers conduct salvage of HTMS Sukhothai

by Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific
15 April 2024 On December 18th, 2022, the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) corvette HTMS Sukhothai tragically sank in 180 feet of water in the Gulf of Thailand due to a storm. Twenty-four RTN sailors perished in the accident and an additional five sailors' whereabouts are still unknown. From February 12th to March 13th, 2024, Commander, Task Group 73.6/Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit ONE, Company 1-5 (CTG 73.6/MDSU 1-5) completed a bilateral salvage mission with RTN Dive Unit on Sukhothai. The salvage team had four objectives: to search for the missing persons, to collect information in support of the RTN accident investigation, to demilitarize or remove sensitive equipment on-board and to recover culturally significant items to memorialize the tragic loss.

The mission, performed as part of Exercise Cobra Gold 2024, was the most advanced combined USN/RTN salvage event ever conducted. According to Lt. Cmdr. Max Cutchen, the U.S. Seventh Fleet Salvage Officer, “The combined diving on Sukhothai allowed us to capitalize on 30 years of bilateral naval training in order to field a 100% interoperable team to attack technically complex, real-world objectives. I think this event opened all of our eyes to what we can accomplish when we work together.”

With assistance from NAVSEA 00C (Supervisor of Salvage), CTG 73.6 mobilized the required dive systems and salvage equipment onto the Military Sealift Command contracted offshore supply vessel MV Ocean Valor in Singapore. Ocean Valor then sailed to Thailand to embark the RTN dive team and conduct interoperability work-up training. Ocean Valor and CTG 73.6 are responsible for US Navy maritime emergency response in the Seventh Fleet Area of Operations.

On February 22, salvage efforts commenced with internal and external surveys to assess the safety of the wreck, collect information as requested by the RTN accident investigation board, and locate priority items. Once all surveys were complete, divers began to salvage items from the ship including weapon systems, communication equipment, and culturally significant items. Overall, the combined dive team conducted 76 total bilateral dives consisting of 68 hours of bottom time and 76 hours of surface decompression in a recompression chamber installed on Ocean Valor.

"It was an honor to support the bilateral light salvage of Sukhothai alongside Royal Thai Navy divers," said Lt. William Rittenhouse, CTG 73.6. "The two nations' divers integrated quickly and completely, thanks to the proficiency and dedication of both USN and RTN divers, and many iterations of Exercise Cobra Gold. Additionally, the operation was fortunate to have an RTN Diving Officer who is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, and a recent RTN graduate of the United States First-Class Dive School. These two representatives of military exchanges are prime examples of the programs' mutual benefit."

The combined Sukhothai salvage mission was successful on many fronts, but the interoperability of U.S. Navy and RTN divers working side-by-side was one of the most significant. The professionalism and respect, as well as the camaraderie displayed throughout the mission is a model for future bilateral exercises and operations.