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Into the light: Inspection of ‘Phoenix’ wreck unveils details, inconsistencies

Into the light: Inspection of ‘Phoenix’ wreck unveils details, inconsistencies

PHUKET: The recovery of the Phoenix tour boat from the seabed at a depth of 45 metres south of Koh Hei (Coral Island) – where it sank in a storm on July 5 – this week marked the beginning of the investigation into whether any structural or mechanical failures of the boat caused or contributed to the death of 47 Chinese tourists in Thailand’s worst maritime disaster in modern history.

By Tanyaluk Sakoot

Saturday 24 November 2018, 09:00AM

The investigation is now an integral part of a full-scale campaign to regain Chinese tourists’ confidence to travel to Thailand as a safe holiday destination.

Thai-Singaporean shipbuilders Seacrest Marine, brought in after the previous salvage company Spitz Tech Co Ltd failed to recover the boat after four months of foul weather during the southwest monsoon, raised the Phoenix to the surface last Saturday (Nov 17).

The boat was taken to the Ratanachai Shipyard on the east side of Phuket Town, where it is now under armed guard by military personnel in order to prevent any “tampering of evidence” while the investigation continues.

Despite repeated announcements over the past months that investigators and experts will have 30 days to inspect the wreck, Royal Thai Police Deputy Commander Gen Rungroj Sangkram alongside Immigration Bureau Chief Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn at Ratanachai Shipyard on Wednesday (Nov 21) both said that investigators will have only seven days to gather what evidence they need from the wreck.

However, Gen Rungroj did explain that the investigation in full will take longer. “We have no deadline for concluding the investigation,” he told The Phuket News.

Gen Rungroj also confirmed his suspicions of the registration documents for the boat, which Gen Surachate – who was Deputy Chief of the national Tourist Police at the time – revealed within days after the disaster contained “only four to five pages of structural diagrams, instead of the usual 60 to 70 pages”.

“I agree with Gen Surachate that this is important to the case, and Gen Surachate will be working together with us in the investigation,” Gen Runroj said.

“I know there are only four to five pages of plans (for the boat), which is suspicious because a boat like this is supposed to have more than that, about 70 pages. I have openly shared my thoughts about this and that it looks strange,” he added.

Wiwat Chitchertwong, currently serving as the Acting Director of the Phuket Marine Office, defied Gen Rungrot and Gen Surachate in their understanding of the plans submitted, despite their ranks.

“The Phoenix boat blueprints must be more than four to five pages, not as reported in the news (sic),” he told The Phuket News. Of note, Gen Surachate published his own report on the blueprints on the Tourist Police website, where the article remains for public viewing. (See report here.)

QSI International School Phuket

“All designs for the Phoenix – and for every boat – are required by regulation as required by the Ship Standard Registration Bureau of the Marine Department. These details for any boat can be searched by anyone there (at that department),” Mr Wiwat said, again without confirming that he had seen the documents for the Phoenix for himself.

“I am confident that all other boats in Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi are approved in accordance with the regulations of the Marine Department,” he added.

“Also, the Phoenix was not registered or approved by the Phuket Marine Office. This boat was approved by the Ship Standard Registration Bureau in Bangkok,” Mr Wiwat pointed out, again without explaining whether the Phuket Marine Office did or did not physically inspect the boat.

Asked specifically who signed the approval to register the boat, Mr Wiwat said, “I don’t know.”

However, Mr Wiwat did send to The Phuket News a copy of the main registration document for the Phoenix, showing that it was registered to carry passengers in specified areas on the open water anywhere from Ranong to Satun, and was valued at B11.7 million.

The Phoenix, at 6.5 metres wide, 29.13m long and with a draft of 3.5m, was registered to carry 120 passengers with a crew of six. The boat’s gross weight was given as 287 tonnes, and the net weight as 107 tons, and the vessel was registered to be powered by two Hino 272.3kW, six-cylinder diesel engines.

Of note, the registered owner of the boat – on the actual registration document – is not 26-year-old Phuket resident Woralak ‘Yui’ Rerkchaikarn, remains in custody at Phuket Prison after the court denied her bail on the charge of recklessness causing death. It is TC Blue Dream Co Ltd, of Moo 5 Rawai.

Meanwhile, Gen Rungroj confirmed that at this stage no officials are facing any initial charges for the likelihood that they may have failed to perform their duties in inspecting the boat and ensuring that it was safe to travel in open water around Phuket.

“The boat has only just been brought onto land for investigation. I want to finish my investigation first,” Gen Rungroj said.

“After the investigation is complete, any persons found guilty in this case will be charged,” he assured.

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Timothy | 25 November 2018 - 10:11:11

Kurt is right. the captain of the boat is the one who should be in jail. A few weeks ago I read a story of a boat sinking in the US. The captain of that boat is being charged with 17 counts of misconduct and negligence causing death. He is also facing lawsuits from all the victims families. The Phoenix capitan and crew all survived. They should all be charged with negligence causing death.  

Kurt | 24 November 2018 - 16:46:11

@ malczx7r,  Well, if ms W is in Phuket prison, at least the Captain should there be too! He was sailing/commanding the Phoenix. That voyage was his responsibility! Not a single crewmember lost life, only 46 chinese tourists. The thai crew did nothing to save passengers life. What for is Ms W. detained in prison? She was not the Captain. The whole affair stinks. Investigate the role of the crew!

malczx7r | 24 November 2018 - 14:04:35

The captain was last seen in a taxi driven by a young driver, who also has no clue about responsibility towards passengers! 5555

Kurt | 24 November 2018 - 10:08:15

Why is ms Woralak detained in Phuket prison? She is not even the owner of the Phoenix? We red about the engineer ( motorman), But I miss always the mentioning of the Captain. A sailing vessel is under command of a Captain ( not the owner and not the engineer/motorman!), and anything what happen during sailing is Captain's responsibility. Where is the Captain?

Kurt | 24 November 2018 - 09:52:09

On 22Nov I raised question or Ms W. was really the owner, it is mostly a Company as we read now too.
Being approved and registered under thai flag, done in Bangkok's Ship Standard Registration Bureau is enough, no need to do it again on Phuket. Just hand over copies to Phuket marine Office if  Phuket became homeport. Mr Wiwat should have the copies in his office file.  If not, why not?

Timothy | 24 November 2018 - 09:24:27

So the 26 year old being held in prison is not the owner of the boat? I'm pretty sure the reason they arrested her was because they said she was the boat owner. It will be very interesting to find out who signed to register the boat, and who the real boat owners are. On what charges are they holding the 26 year old??? Clear as mud. 

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