Pattaya ferry captain confesses to drug use

The captain of a ferry that capsized about 1,500 metres offshore from Pattaya on Sunday evening has turned himself in, telling police he was high on drugs while on his duty.

A double-decker boat arrives at a pier in Pattaya on Monday. Rescuers recounted frantic efforts to pluck terrified survivors from the sea after a crowded tourist ferry carrying about 200 people sank. (AFP photo)

Saman Kwanmuang, 42, turned himself into police on Sunday night, hours after his ferry capsized while returning about 200 Thai and foreign tourists from a day trip to Koh Larn.

Pol Maj Gen Katcha Tatusatra, Chon Buri police chief, said the captain confessed to officers that he took some drugs before going to work, and that he and the crew lost control of the vessel as a result. He allegedly confessed the ferry wandered off course, and hit the rocks, breaching the vessel, punching holes and letting water pour in.

According to a report in Daily News, Mr Saman realised the problem, so he turned off all power so he could try to fix the water pump. He issued no warning to his passengers, supposedly so they would not panic.

However, after 10 minutes, so much water had flowed into the bottom deck of the two-deck boat that passengers had indeed begun to panic. Squabbles broke out, apparently because there were not enough life jackets to go around, the captain allegedly told police.

A group of tourists arrive at a pier to board a boat in Pattaya on Monday. (AFP photo)

The Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation confirmed on Monday that six people died - three foreigners and three Thais. Another 18 were treated for injuries.

The known victims were identified as Chuchart Chompoonak, 53, Aree Attayoko, 67, Nanthawadee Sopithapong, 44, and To Kin Man, 48. Authorities were still trying to verify the identities of a Russian woman and another foreigner.

Earlier reports of three Russian deaths proved wrong. The Russian embassy in Bangkok said only one Russian, a woman, was confirmed dead.

The injured were taken to Pattaya Memorial Hospital, Bangkok Hospital Pattaya and Banglamung Hospital.

A team of 10 scuba divers  sent out by Chon Buri governor Komsan Aekchai on Monday to investigate the sunken ferry reported seeing a crack on the boat's bow. They found no other bodies.

Mr Komsan said the vessel will be salvaged next month.

The Marine Department will investigate the cause of the ferry’s capsizing, but an initial investigation suggested the deaths and injuries stemmed from overloading and insufficient safety equipment, the department’s director-general Sornsak Saensombat said.

The Marine Department has already revoked the captain's licence.

The double-decker ferry sank about 5.30pm on Sunday, shortly after leaving  Koh Larn with a full load of passengers heading for Bali Hai Pier in Pattaya. The boat’s water pumps broke down, the vessel was flooded and the engine stopped functioning, he said.

The passengers panicked and moved up to the top deck of the vessel,  which then over-balanced, capsized and swiftly sank.

Related search: Pattaya, boat accident, Chon Buri

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