Deaths spur boat safety boost

Deaths spur boat safety boost

Slew of measures to prevent new tragedies

A large crane took several hours Tuesday to raise the sunken Sombat Mongkolchai Tabtim passenger boat which sank near the bank of the Chao Phraya River in Ayutthaya on Sunday. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)
A large crane took several hours Tuesday to raise the sunken Sombat Mongkolchai Tabtim passenger boat which sank near the bank of the Chao Phraya River in Ayutthaya on Sunday. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)

The Transport Ministry has rolled out a slew of measures to tighten boat transport safety rules, including the installation of automatic tracking systems, following Sunday's deadly boat sinking in Ayutthaya, with the death toll rising to 28.

Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said Tuesday that the tragedy will serve as a lesson to prevent a repeat of future incidents.

The ministry has set up a fact-finding inquiry and issued a set of preventive measures against future incidents.

The first and most urgent step is for the Marine Department to look into matters relating to the oversight and law enforcement of officials, boat registration, and the issuance of licences for helmsmen. The probe will also cover the inspection of boats and piers, life-saving equipment and patrols by marine officials. The probe must be wrapped up within 10 days, Mr Arkhom said.

"Marine officials have been instructed to inspect all piers. Helmsmen must have licences. Officials overseeing all public piers in every province have been instructed to step up checks on the condition of transport boats to ensure the maximum safety for passengers," Mr Arkhom said.

Public and private piers, as well as other riverside structures will also be subject to rigorous inspections to prevent encroachment on public waterways that could pose dangers to boat transport. Passenger boats will also be required to instal life-saving equipment such as life jackets.

These measures must be completed within one month, Mr Arkhom said.

For longer-term preventive measures, the Marine Department will issue a regulation requiring passenger boats with a passenger load of 25 or more to instal an Automatic Identification System next year to enable marine officials to more efficiently regulate and monitor boats, Mr Arkhom said.

An electronic system to report the check-ins and check-outs at the piers of passenger boats will also be installed next year. Passenger boats that want to divert from their usual course will be required to first obtain permission from the Marine Department, Mr Arkhom said.

Other measures include increasing the number of compulsory boat safety training sessions from twice to four times a year and requiring that all boats instal a radio communications system to keep in contact with Marine Department officials on each trip, Mr Arkhom said.

The minister also said the Transport Ministry is considering amending the 1913 Navigation in Thai Waters Act to impose more stringent measures on passenger boat operators, and boat helmsmen.

Under the law, boat passenger operators will only face civil lawsuits in cases involving boat capsizes as a result of passenger overloads, while helmsmen will face a fine of up to 10,000 baht and/or a jail term of up to six months.

The law may be amended to impose heavier penalties, Mr Arkhom said. He also stressed the need to change the law to authorise helmsmen to refuse to set off if their boats are overloaded with passengers.

As of late Tuesday, two more bodies from the boat that capsized in the Chao Phraya River in Ayutthaya on Sunday had been retrieved, bringing the death toll to 28. The body of Thongbai Khantharak, an 89-year-old woman, was recovered 5-7 kilometres from the spot where the boat sank in front of Wat Sanam Chai.

Apilak Boonrak, a three-year-old boy, was found near a Catholic church in tambon Sampao Lom in Ayutthaya's Muang district 3-4 kilometres from where the boat sank. No more missing persons have been reported.

Previously, officials reported that there might still be another missing child, a two-year-old boy identified as Apinan Saengkam, but an investigation found that this name was not listed in the state civil register.

As a result, officials have concluded that only 28 deaths occurred in the incident.

The Marine Department sent two recovery vessels with two large cranes to salvage the tourist boat Tuesday afternoon.

It took about two hours to raise the sunken boat back to the surface.

The boat was then towed away by the two tug boats to Si Charoen shipyard located 4-5 kilometres from the spot where it sank. Authorities will carry out an investigation to determine the cause of the tragedy.

Marine Department deputy-secretary general Nat Chapchai, who oversaw the operation to salvage the boat, said a team of divers told him that the bottom of the wooden boat had sustained a deep crack almost seven metres long.


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