PHUKET: One man drowned and dozens of Chinese tourists are missing after high waves capsized a boat returning from Koh Racha , officials said Thursday night.
The boat was carrying around 90 passengers when it began to keel over after it was hit by massive waves, prompting a rescue operation that stretched into the night and left authorities scrambling to react.
Collated reports at midnight said 53 people now are missing in the rough waters that overturned their boat.
The body of a man wearing a life jacket with the logo of the Phoenix boat was pulled from the sea.
Footage on the public relations Facebook page Phuket showed the body brought to shore.
First responders stand by on the pier at Chalong, waiting for the rescue of tourists missing from the capsizing of their boat on Thursday. (Photo via Twitter/@fm91trafficpro)
The governor of Phuket, Noraphat Plodthong, said more half of the passengers were still "being helped" and unaccounted for as rescue and fishing boats rushed to the scene.
A second provincial official, requesting anonymity, said rescuers "are working to find" the 53 believed missing.
According to The Phuket News Gov Norraphat reported a total of 138 people in need of rescue from three incidents on the sea Thursday:
- 97 on board the boat officials named in Thai as ฟิกนิก (likely Phoenix), which was overwhelmed near Koh Hei (Coral Island), south of Phuket;
- 39 people on board the boat เซเนลิก้า (Senalika), which police reported earlier had sunk off Koh Maithon, southeast of Phuket; and
- 2 Russians confirmed safe after they were involved in a jet-ski incident near Koh Racha.
Television footage taken at a pier in Phuket showed stunned tourists huddling in blankets, while several women cried as medics tended to the injured.
The boat was returning to Phuket from Koh Racha at around 4pm when a storm hit, according to the captain, who identified himself as Somjing Boontham in a televised interview.
He said the boat was hit by 5-metre waves, which flooded the boat. It started to slowly keel over, prompting him to warn passengers to secure their life jackets and trigger inflatable life rafts.
"So I sent someone to them to wear life jackets... They were all Chinese visitors -- apart from two farang," he said, adding around half the passengers were unaccounted for.
Gov Noraphat said Phuket officials had issued a weather warning on Wednesday alerting the public about impending storms.
"There were high winds this evening," he said, adding a further 10 pleasure boats were stranded at sea and being attended to by rescue boats from the police and navy.
Others who made it to shore were covered in blankets and being tended to by medics at a pier in Phuket. Several women cried and shouted in Chinese.
Two other separate boat capsizes were reported in the same area Thursday evening.
The yacht Senerita, carrying 39 people also capsized in the high seas, the officials added.
All of the passengers in both cases were pulled from the sea alive.
Photographs circulating on social media showed soaked and exhausted passengers -- most of them Asian -- in life jackets being pulled on inflatable rafts to safety.
It was not immediately clear which boat they belonged to.
- Earlier report: Two boats, jet ski capsize off Phuket
Rescued Chinese were taken aboard a Thai fishing boat to their original destination of Chalong on the southern end of Phuket. (Photo via Twitter/@Echinanews)