By The Nation
AT LEAST 33 tourists have died and dozens are missing after strong waves and bad weather sunk a dive yacht packed with mainly Chinese visitors off the resort island of Phuket on Thursday.
Phuket Governor Norapat Plodthong said rescuers have retrieved at least 32 bodies from the sea while 23 others are still missing and 49 were rescued.
Many victims of the accident near Koh Hay island drowned despite wearing life jackets.
At press time, sea and air searches continued with the main focus on the sunk Phoenix yacht.
The Phoenix, carrying 93 passengers and 12 crew members, was operating near Koh Hay island as part of a snorkelling and swimming trip, when the accident happened.
Vessels from the Royal Thai Navy, coastal patrol units and private-owned boats were deployed to help comb the area for missing passengers. Scores of divers were assigned to check the sunken Phoenix.
The governor searchers would focus on the Phoenix, as well as combing the sea at a radius of 10 kilometres from the accident.
Rear Admiral Charoenpon Kumrasee said that Navy divers had gone down to the vessel and entered one room.
“In that room, the divers found about 10 passengers stuck inside. However it was difficult to retrieve them as the ship is about 40 metres underwater. The first batch of divers spent about 45 minutes there and the second batch will follow for an additional search,” Charoenpon said.
Kanokkittika Krittawuttikorn, director of Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Phuket office, said she is collecting information to report to Beijing who will advise the passengers’ families.
Some of the surviving tourists were still being treated in a local hospital last night while others were sent home.
The storm and high waves caused another boat accident off Phuket. The Senereta vessel, carrying 149 passengers, sunk although no one died in the incident.
Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat said that the families of the victims of the boat accident would get Bt300,000 from the government.
The ministry has a fund to compensate the families of tourists injured or killed in accidents. Those injured would receive up to Bt500,000 each towards medical bills.
Weerasak said the ministry has set up a coordination centre for efforts to help surviving tourists. Weerasak said the Phoenix has a licence issued to the TC Blue Dream Co Ltd and the company has bought insurance for passengers. He said each dead victim’s family would receive Bt1 million in compensation from the insurance policy while those injured would receive Bt500,000.
As a preliminary act, police have notified the captain of the Phoenix of pending charges of being reckless, causing an accident that injured and killed others.