At least 32 dead in Phuket boat tragedy
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At least 32 dead in Phuket boat tragedy

Search continues for 23 missing Chinese

At least 32 people from one of two tourist boats that capsized in rough seas off the coast of Phuket on Thursday evening were confirmed dead as of 9pm yesterday, as the search for another 23 missing Chinese tourists who had been on board continued.

A tourist is plucked from the sea off Phuket and given first aid aboard a naval ship several hours after the dive vessel 'Phoenix' sank late on Thursday evening. Royal Thai Navy

Phuket police said that two tourist boats and a jet ski capsized on Thursday evening. All of the dead and missing come from one of the boats, called the Phoenix.

Somjing Boontham, the boat's captain, said he left Chalong Bay pier on Thursday morning for a diving trip to Koh Racha. On the way back the boat passed Laem Mong when strong waves as high as 5 metres struck it repeatedly, causing water to flow in which precipitated its submergence.

There were 105 people -- 93 tourists, 12 crew and several tour guides -- on board the Phoenix when it started to go under at Laem Mong in front of Koh Heh in tambon Rawai. Most of the passengers were Chinese. Russians were also among them.

A total of 50 people -- 38 tourists and all 12 crew and guides -- had been rescued as of last night. Phuket governor Norapat Plodthong said he had given up hope the remaining Chinese would be found.

The other boat was a yacht named Serenita carrying 39 passengers and two crew. It went down between Koh Heh and Koh Mai Thon. All passengers and crew were rescued. Meanwhile, two Russian tourists on a jet ski who were reported missing near Koh Racha were plucked safely from the sea and brought to shore.

A command centre has been set up at Chalong Bay pier. Provincial authorities and the 3rd Army were mapping out measures for land, water and air searches for the missing people, the governor said. The area has been declared a disaster zone.

Deputy tourist police chief Surachate Hakparn said yesterday Phuket police have pressed criminal charges against the helmsman of the Phoenix for recklessness causing deaths. The boat has been salvaged from the sea and impounded, Pol Maj Gen Surachate said.

He said the crew failed to heed a weather alert issued by the Meteorological Department warning vessels about the onset of dangerous weather conditions.

Pol Maj Gen Surachate said he will discuss with the director-general of the Marine Department whether to revoke the boat owner's operating licence.

Navy commander Adm Naris Pratoomsuwan said the 3rd Naval Area has sent three patrol vessels to look for the missing Phoenix passengers. Navy Seal divers have also been deployed.

Meanwhile, a team of officials from the Chinese embassy arrived in Phuket yesterday to work with Thai authorities on the search effort and help affected Chinese tourists.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha expressed his "sympathies and deepest condolences" to the families of the dead. He said the government would "exert all efforts to find those still missing and provide support to all survivors.

Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat said most of the Chinese tourists were independent travellers who had bought tour packages online.

He has assigned deputy permanent secretary for tourism Santi Pawai to go to Phuket to provide assistance and coordinate follow-up work, he added.

Up to 1 million baht will be provided for each tourist in the event of death, organ loss, impaired eyesight or disability, officials said, and up to 500,000 baht to cover their medical costs.

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