Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon Tuesday apologised for his harsh criticism of Chinese tour operators, after he blamed them for the death of many passengers on the tour boat that sank off the coast of Phuket.
"If I said something that upset people, I want to apologise. I've received a report about the matter. Don't try to mix the two," Gen Prawit said.
On Monday, Gen Prawit publicly said some Chinese companies run using Thai nominees has brought in Chinese tourists and had not heeded warnings, which led to the boat disaster. His comments sparked uproar on social media in China.
The Phoenix dive boat capsized and sank last Thursday off Phuket with 101 people on board -- 89 tourists, all but two of them from China, and 12 crew -- when returning to port after a trip to a small island.
Asked if the Chinese government had criticised him for his remarks, Gen Prawit said Chinese officials had not reacted, but social media had bombarded him with criticism.
He said there are two different issues related to the deadly boat disaster in Phuket. The first is the rescue mission and the second is to finding the wrongdoers.
"Do not mix both issues together. We are working the best we can on the rescue mission and providing relief to victims," he said.
He insisted the government would do its utmost to help all the tourists, most of whom were Chinese. Meanwhile, the police and related agencies have set up a committee to look into the backgrounds of the companies linked with boat accidents.
Gen Prawit said the navy and marine police had been told to help with both the dead and the injured tourists and local police and tourism police would take legal action against those responsible.
Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai played down the furore, saying it was unlikely to affect bilateral relations and the Thai government was doing everything it could to help the victims.
He said authorities would have to tighten regulations and strictly enforce them to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy.
A combined force led by deputy tourist police chief Surachate Hakparn Tuesday raided 11 target locations in Phuket suspected of being run by foreign interests.
Pol Maj Gen Surachate said the targets were private firms and the homes of two people suspected of running substandard tour operations, including TC Blue Dream Ltd and Lazy Cat Travel Ltd.
TC Blue Dream Ltd is linked to the Phoenix dive boat while Lazy Cat Travel is associated with the Sereniga yacht that also sank though all the crew and passengers were rescued.
Pol Maj Gen Surachate said a large number of documents were seized and some suggested involvement in so-called zero-dollar tour scams.
Local authorities said the number of Chinese people missing from the Phoenix was Tuesday cut to three, down from 11, after five were located by Chinese consular and Thai immigration authorities and three more bodies were found.
The Phoenix death toll had risen to 44 Tuesday.