Phuket tragedy sparks foreign owners sweep

Phuket tragedy sparks foreign owners sweep

Sunk tour boat said to be run by Thai proxies

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha visited a Phuket hospital to console recovering survivors of last Thursday's dive boat disaster, and comfort relatives of the 42 known dead Chinese tourists. (Photo courtesy Government House)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha visited a Phuket hospital to console recovering survivors of last Thursday's dive boat disaster, and comfort relatives of the 42 known dead Chinese tourists. (Photo courtesy Government House)

The Anti-Money Laundering (Office) has stepped in to freeze the bank accounts of two tour operators whose boats capsized off Phuket last Thursday as a fresh crackdown on the use of Thai proxy owners begins.

Deputy tourist police chief Surachate "Big Joke" Hakparn said Monday that Amlo will examine the assets of the two companies based on initial findings they are being run by foreign interests.

According to Pol Maj Gen Surachate, these two companies are also allegedly linked to Tranlee Travel, a company which offered a tour service in Phuket and was raided in 2016 on suspicion of being illegally owned and run on the behalf of foreigners.

He said police will launch a crackdown against 12 foreign nominees found to operating in Phuket, Phangnga and Krabi and will coordinate closely with Chinese tourist authorities to tighten controls over China-based tour operators.

He said travel companies based in China were allegedly using their nominees in Phuket to operate the business, which had not respected safety regulations, involved in the tragic accident.

The deputy tourist police chief also threatened to take legal action against any Thai officials found to be complicit with these proxies.

Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong said Monday authorities are investigating the two companies involved in the boat accidents to see if they are in compliance with related business laws.

Both were initially found to have properly registered with Thai authorities, he said.

They were identified as Lazy Cat Travel Ltd and TC Blue Dream Ltd by the Department of Business Development.

A total of 63.96 million baht would be paid to boat tragedy victims, said Pongpanu Svetarundra, permanent secretary of the Tourism and Sports Ministry.

The money would be disbursed from the Tourist Assistance Fund, he said.

He said one million baht would be given in case of death, 500,000 baht for medical treatment in case of injuries. Those who needed counselling for the trauma would get financial assistance of 20,000 per person.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha went to Phuket on Monday to observe the operations and extend moral support to the victims and rescue workers.

The search area would also be expanded to the neighbouring provinces of Krabi, Trang and Satun to locate those who remained missing with patrols on beaches and the scattered islands.

The Phoenix capsized and sank on July 5 during a storm with 89 mostly Chinese tourists on board. Thirty seven survived, 42 died and 10 went missing.

Five of the missing have been located and are alive, Phuket governor Norrapat Plodthong said, adding that authorities are verifying the details.

A yacht and a jet ski also capsized off Phuket that day, but all 43 people on those vessels were rescued.


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