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.)
“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.