'Phoenix' recovered four months after tragedy

'Phoenix' recovered four months after tragedy

The wreckage of the Phoenix is pulled out of the water off Phuket on Saturday afternoon. (Photos by Achadtaya Chueniran)
The wreckage of the Phoenix is pulled out of the water off Phuket on Saturday afternoon. (Photos by Achadtaya Chueniran)

PHUKET: The boat at the centre of the incident that killed dozens of Chinese visitors in July, dealing a heavy blow to tourism, has finally been recovered, police said on Saturday.

The Phoenix had been lying in 45 metres of water, 3.7 kilometres off Koh Hae since July 5 when it capsized in a storm and killed 47 Chinese tourists coming back from a diving trip. It was one of the worst tourism-related accidents in local history.

The recovery of the craft means the key evidence is now ready for scrutiny to determine the cause of the tragedy and provide justice to the victims and their families.

The Thai-Singaporean salvage team initially used slings and cranes to lift the boat to within one metre of the surface, said Pol Gen Rungroj Saengkram, the deputy national police chief. Divers and technicians then dived down to check whether the boat was ready to be retrieved.

The wreckage of the double-decker was finally pulled out of the water at around 5pm. It will be moved to a dock on Monday for closer inspection.

Pol Maj Gen Surachate Hakparn, the acting immigration police chief, said the Thai government would not allow a repeat of such an incident.

“The government is determined to get to the root cause of the incident so that it can remedy and show sincerity to them,” he said, referring to the families of the Chinese victims.

The incident has damaged the country and the tourism industry, he said, adding that anyone responsible for it, including state officials, would be prosecuted.

He believes that once the cases against those involved are concluded, confidence among Chinese travellers will be restored.

Initial investigations indicated that the crew of the Phoenix ignored warnings to stay ashore as storms developed on the day of its ill-fated voyage in Phuket.

After the accident, many Chinese began to question whether they would be safe in Thailand. Chinese arrivals fell 12% month-on-month in August, and were down a further 15% in September. October figures have not yet been released.

Authorities have been taking steps to improve the image of the country among Chinese tourists, including a waiver of visa-on-arrival fees and improved safety measures for land, air and water transport, Pol Maj Gen Surachate told a briefing held in Phuket.

In Phuket, safety measures at all 24 ports have been stepped up, with marine officials, tourism police and other related agencies assigned to each.

“They will have to ensure the safety of boats and people before boats leave port,” he said.

In addition to representatives from the Chinese embassy, Chinese media were invited to the briefing to show transparency and keep relatives of the victims updated about the progress of the case.

“We have prosecuted a former Phuket marine chief and some companies,” he said.

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