By The Thaiger & The Nation
Strong winds and high waves sunk the dive yacht Phoenix, packed with mainly Chinese visitors, late on Thursday afternoon when a weather front came in from the Andaman Sea.
Phuket’s Governor Norapat Plodthong said rescuers had retrieved at least 32 bodies from the waters between Koh Hei and Koh Maiton while 23 others are still missing. 49 people were rescued.
Many victims of the accident drowned despite wearing life jackets. Many were found floating face-down – a situation life-jackets are meant to prevent. The main focus is still on the sunken Phoenix yacht wreck. Whilst the rescue operations were suspended last night they resumed again this morning at 5am.
The Phoenix was carrying 93 passengers and 12 crew members, was operating near Koh Hei as part of a snorkelling and swimming trip, when the incident 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 yesterday in a mission that was considered a body recovery mission, not a rescue mission.
Searching will continue today, focussed on the Phoenix, as well as combing the sea at a radius of 10 kilometres around the accident.
Rear Admiral Charoenpon Kumrasee said that Navy divers had gone down to the vessel and entered one room yesterday
“In that room, the divers found about 10 dead 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 followed 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 Vachira and Mission Hospitals last night while others were sent home.
The hospitals put out a call yesterday for Chinese translators to assist with communicating with the many patients that had been brought to the hospital after their rescue.
The Senereta was the second vessel that sunk on Thursday evening. It was carrying 149 passengers and 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 300,000 baht 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 500,000 baht 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 Company and the business has bought insurance for passengers. He said each dead victim’s family would receive 1 million baht in compensation from the insurance policy while those injured would receive 500,000 baht.
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. The captain was recovered, along with other passengers, from a liferaft late on Thursday afternoon.