The Thai government yesterday pledged to ensure justice for Chinese victims of a tour boat that sank in a storm off the southern resort island of Phuket, killing 42 people and leaving 14 missing.
Thai Minister for Tourism and Sports Weerasak Kowsurat said the government will “spare no one” as it seriously investigates the tragedy.
Police were investigating whether the double-decker Phoenix dive boat had been inspected by marine officials as required before it set sail on Thursday, Weerasak said.
The Thai Meteorological Department issued warnings for small ships not to go to sea that day, but bigger boats, such as the Phoenix, could sail after inspection.
The boat, with 105 people, including 93 tourists, capsized and sank after it was hit by 5m waves.
The testimonies of 40 witnesses showed that the captains of the Phoenix and another boat that also sank on Thursday had “acted carelessly,” local police chief Sorasak Yenprem said.
All the passengers from the second ship were rescued.
The captains have been charged, but they denied the allegations, Sorasak said, adding that investigations are ongoing.
“We will ensure that those responsible are brought to justice,” Weerasak said.
The government would bolster security regulations to prevent similar accidents, and intensify efforts to restore trust and confidence in the country’s tourism sector, he added.
The disaster did not appear to deter visitors, with dozens of Western and some Chinese tourists yesterday leaving on boats for diving and cruise trips, despite a warning issued by the department for smaller ships not to go to sea.
Yi Mao Ling, a 63-year-old tourist from Kunming, said he was perplexed by the tragedy as he walked up to a boat with his children and grandchildren for an island trip.
“It makes me feel uncomfortable, but we can go. I am not worried,” he told reporters.
More than 30 divers were involved in an operation yesterday to flip the sunken Phoenix to retrieve a body trapped underneath, Thai Rear Admiral Charoenpol Kumrasi said.
They will need more time and equipment to raise the wreckage, which is sitting about 40m beneath the surface, he said.
The search for the missing would also continue, he said, with divers and helicopters searching areas around the site and the nearby sea.
Nearly a dozen Chinese divers were taking part in the search.
French diver Laurent Couleau said a pair of legs was seen dangling from beneath the hull when he and other divers entered the wreck on Saturday.
He said it was traumatic seeing bodies, including those of several young children, in the boat’s cabins, some wearing life jackets.
Couleau said he took a dive group out on the same route and on the same day when the Phoenix sank.
He said the weather in the morning was good, and that the storm came suddenly with very strong wind and waves that rocked his boat as it sailed back to pier.
A Chinese survivor related his ordeal to China’s CGTN television.
“The waves were really high and stormy; they were hitting the boat constantly. I was with my sister, brother and two friends from school. All of them are dead. I feel terrible,” Huang Jun Siong said. “I only broke my hand. I was climbing up to the top of the boat, but stuff was flying around everywhere. A big piece of glass hit me.”
Many Chinese have volunteered their services at the hospital to help distraught relatives.
“Even though we are doctors, in this situation, it makes us feel that life is so fragile,” said Fang Han Yi, a medical student from Wuhan, who volunteered at the hospital on Saturday.
She was in Bangkok with her two friends, but said they abandoned their holiday plans and flew to Phuket to help out.
She said one of the most heartbreaking scene at the hospital were that of four Chinese students who survived the ordeal, but their friend died.
The five, from Guangdong Province, just graduated from high school and came to Phuket to celebrate, she said.
“Two of the boys held each other so tight and cried uncontrollably,” Fang said. “We cried with them.”
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