A Thai navy sailor braved choppy waters to launch a dramatic rescue effort to save four cats stranded on a sinking ship that had caught fire.
It was only when the navy was sent to check the vessel, near the island of Koh Adang, for an oil spill after rescuing all eight of the crew yesterday, that they discovered the cats had been forgotten.
First-Class Petty Officer Wichit Pukdeelon of the navy's air and coastal defence division said: 'I used my camera to zoom in to the boat, and I saw one or two cats popping their heads out.'
Thai navy sailors braved choppy waters to launch a dramatic rescue effort to save four cats stranded on a sinking ship that had caught fire
The vessel had caught fire near the island of Koh Adang off the coast of Thailand. All eight crew members had already been rescued, it was only when the Thai navy began searching the site for an oil spill that the cats were discovered
Saving the day: Thatsaphon Saii, 23, from the Royal Thai Navy's Air and Coastal Defence Command Operation Unit 491, in a life vest swam 50ft out to the capsized boat to rescue the four cats
Thatsaphon Saii, 23, from the Royal Thai Navy's Air and Coastal Defence Command Operation Unit 491, in a life vest, swam 50ft out to the capsized boat, on which four ginger cats were huddled together clinging to a crane structure as the flames engulfed the boat.
The rescuer brought the cats to his boat on his shoulder above the water level, with his team pulling him in by rope.
Speaking about the rescue, Thatsaphon said: 'When we arrived it was to secure the wreckage and check for oil spills. But we noticed the cats onboard.
'I immediately took off my shirt and put on a life jacket so I could jump into the sea. The flames were at the back of the boat but it was starting to sink, so I knew I had to be quick.
Thatsaphon loaded the four cats onto his back, using his life jacket to remain bouyant, and was then pulled back to his navy vessel by other members of the Thai navy
Thatsaphon said that although the flames were roaring at the back of the boat, he needed to act quickly in order to save the four cats
Catman: 23-year-old Thatsaphon Saii (left) sits with the four cats that he rescued from the burning vessel. All four animals are now being cared for by their rescuers at the Thai navy's command post on Koh Lipe
'I'm so relieved that we were able to save the kittens. They would have drowned or died of thirst if they went into the sea.'
The cats are now being cared for by their rescuers at their command post on the island of Koh Lipe.
Satun Governor Ekarat Lishen said: 'The oil tank in the sunken ship is vulnerable to leaking, which will cause damage to coral reefs or collect on the sea surface.
'We're now working with related agencies to contact and coordinate with the ship owners to find a way to salvage the wreckage.'
The four cats were left behind on the sinking vessel. When the Thai navy crewmen first spotted the distressed animals, they had huddled together on a large wooden plank away from the flames
The vessel eventually sank beneath the waves after the four cats and all eight crew members had successfully been rescued. Thai authorities are now working to salvage the vessel