Prawit blames tour operators for boat disaster, 10 still missing

Prawit blames tour operators for boat disaster, 10 still missing

A sinking boat is seen at sea off Phuket, Thailand in this screen grab obtained from a video taken on July 5, 2018. (LOVE ANDAMAN TEAM/via REUTERS)
A sinking boat is seen at sea off Phuket, Thailand in this screen grab obtained from a video taken on July 5, 2018. (LOVE ANDAMAN TEAM/via REUTERS)

Five people reported to have been missing from a tour boat that sank in a storm off the southern resort island of Phuket are alive, Thai authorities said Monday, though it's unclear if the five survived the sinking or never got on the boat.

Phuket Gov Norrapat Plodthong said authorities are trying to verify their details and some of them may have left Thailand.

Mr Norrapat said the development came after new information emerged from Thai immigration and the Chinese Embassy.

The new information also showed there were 89 tourists, 87 of them Chinese, on the boat, instead of the previous figure of 93, he said.

The number of people who are missing has been lowered from 14 to 10, including the five who are alive but whose whereabouts are unclear, he said. The death toll remains at 42, including a body still trapped under the wreckage.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the country's military ruler, expressed his “profound sadness'' in a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping. In the letter released by the foreign ministry Monday, Gen Prayuth said a full investigation is underway to find the cause of the tragedy and assured Mr Xi his government is determined to ensure such incidents would not recur.

Gen Prayut arrived in Phuket on Monday to observe the operations and will visit Chinese relatives and survivors at a hospital.

 (Video YouTube/CCTV English)

Police said the captain of the Phoenix has been charged with “careless conduct leading to death'' and could face more than three years in jail.

The captain of another boat that capsized on the same day and the manager of a travel agency that chartered the boat have also been charged for being careless leading to injuries. All the passengers from the second ship were rescued.

Tourism Minister Weerasak Kowsurat, who is in Phuket, has said the government will “spare no one'' and will bring all those responsible to justice. Families of each victim could receive up to 1.4 million Thai baht in compensation, officials said.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan blamed Chinese tour operators for not respecting Thai safety legislation.

"Some Chinese use Thai nominees to bring Chinese tourists in ... they did not heed warnings ... which is why this incident happened. This needs to be remedied," Gen Prawit said.

He did not elaborate.

China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued an urgent circular on Saturday, stressing the importance of researching online travel companies when booking overseas trips.

Many of those on board the Phoenix had booked travel independently via online tour operators, the ministry said.

The boat, the Phoenix, went down in high seas on Thursday off the west-coast island of Phuket with 101 people on board, including 89 tourists, all but two of them from China, and 12 crew, during an outing to a small island for snorkelling.

The death toll, which is likely to surpass 50, makes it the worst tourist-related disaster in Thailand in years and underscores long-standing concerns about its safety.

The rainy season now under way can bring fierce squalls and high seas in southern Thailand, especially off its west coast, and questions have been raised about why the boat had set out to sea despite warnings of bad weather.

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