Sunken tour boat lifted to river surface

Sunken tour boat lifted to river surface

AYUTTHAYA - The tour boat that sank in the Chao Phraya River on Sunday was lifted from the riverbed on Tuesday afternoon, as the confirmed death toll rose to 27 with the discovery of the body of a young child.

Salvage crews raise the sunken tour boat from the Chao Phraya river on Tuesday afternoon. It was to be refloated and towed to a pier about 5km away. (Photo by Sunthon Pongpao)

Two  cranes on barges began raising the boat, which was resting on its side on the bed of the river near the bank with only part of the top superstructure above  water.

Nylon slings were drawn underneath the boat's hull by divers to enable the cranes to lift it.

By 3.30pm, two hours into the salvage operation, about 50% of the vessel was above water, with the top deck clearly visible.

At that point the work was brought to a halt.  Marine Department officials did not want to lift the boat any further for fear of causing more damage to it.

The boat would be supported and hauled along the Chao Phraya River to Sri Charoen pier,  4-5 kilometres downstream from Wat Sanam Chai where it sank after hitting a piling.

Earlier, at 11.40am, Udomsak Khaonuna, chief of the Ayutthaya disaster prevention and mitigation office, announced that the body of the 27th victim had been found about 3km downriver - a 3-year-old boy named  Apilak Boonrak.

Two other passengers were still missing - an 89-year-old woman named Thongbai Khanthalak and a two-year-old boy, Apinan Saengkham. Both were presumed dead.

Nath Jabjai, deputy director-general of the Marine Department, said on Tuesday the right side of the ferry had hit a hard object below the waterline, causing a 7-metre-long crack. The hull had rapidly filled with water and the vessel capsized and sank.


Earlier story:

The death toll from the sinking of a river ferry boat on Sunday was confirmed at 26 on Tuesday morning, with three people still missing, provincial disaster prevention and mitigation office chief Udomsak Khaonuna said.

Mr Udomsak said 15 bodies were recovered on Sept 18, when the tour boat, registered under the name Sombat Mongkolchai Tabtim, with about 150 Muslim pilgrims on board, crashed into a piling and sank next to the embankment of the Chao Phraya River at Wat Sanam Chai.

Five more bodies were found on Monday, and by Tuesday morning another six had been plucked from the Chao Phraya River. (continues below).

Boats carrying divers searching for missing bodies from the sunken ferry boat (Photo by Sombat Mongkolchai Tabtim on the Chao Phraya River in Ayutthaya on Tuesday morning.(Photo by Sunthon Pongpao)

Mr Udomsak said that as of Tuesday morning the death toll was 26 -- 20 females and six males. The three people  still missing were also presumed dead. He hoped their bodies would be found today.

Most of the killed and missing were Muslims from a community in tambon Sam Phao Lom of Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya district.

About 50 boat passengers were injured in the accident.  Nine of them, five women and four men, were still being treated in hospital.

Pol Maj Gen Suthi Puangpikul, the Ayutthaya police chief, said police had arrested Wirach Chaisirikul, 67, the boat helmsman.

Mr Wirach had been charged with recklessness causing deaths and injuries, operating a boat carrying more passengers than permitted, and having an expired boat driver's licence.

With court permission, he had been detained at Ayutthaya prison.  He would be taken to the police station this afternoon for further questioning.

Police investigators and Marine Department officials would examine the boat after it is salvaged to see if it met all safety standards.

Sunthorn Pansuathong, the boat owner, was being investigated, Pol Maj Gen Suthi said.

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