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Phuket boat disaster: Search for bodies turns to beaches

PHUKET: Officials have been ordered to start scouring the beaches at nearby islands and as far away as Koh Lanta and even Trang for bodies from the Phoenix boat disaster, which sunk off Koh Hei (Coral Island), south of Phuket, on Thursday.

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By The Phuket News

Sunday 8 July 2018, 08:13PM


Divers today were unable to recover the body still pinned under the Phoenix, as officials were ordered to start scouring beaches as far away as Koh Lanta and Trang for bodies that may wash ashore. Photo: AFP / Mohd Rasfan

Divers today were unable to recover the body still pinned under the Phoenix, as officials were ordered to start scouring beaches as far away as Koh Lanta and Trang for bodies that may wash ashore. Photo: AFP / Mohd Rasfan

Vice Admiral Somnuk Preampramot, Commander of the Royal Thai Navy Third Area Command, announced the news at a press briefing today, as Phuket Governor Norraphat confirmed that the search continues for 14 people still missing, with 49 of the 105 people on the Phoenix rescued and the number of dead now confirmed at 42.

Governor Norrapat today said the body was found inside the wreckage of Phoenix and retrieved by divers.

Officers are to start immediately searching the beaches on all nearby islands, including on Phuket and as far as Koh Lanta some 70km away.

Today the search was expanded to include Koh Yao Yai, some 15km east of Phuket, and even the tourist-popular Phi Phi Don Island, halfway across the bay, due to the prevailing current and wind.

The search was carried out by aircraft from the Royal Thai Navy, Army and Air Force, as well as a fleet of boats, comprising Navy search vessels and volunteers, including the local fishing boats.

Thai Navy SEAL divers and divers who have flown in from China to join the effort, along with rescue workers and other volunteers, today failed to recover the body still pinned under the Phoenix.

Attempts will continue tomorrow, though today it was explained recovering the body will not be likely until the Phoenix is lifted off the seabed, an operation that officials are still working on.

At the press briefing today, Chinese Ambassador to Thailand Lyu Jian assured that the search mission will not end until every missing person is found.

He reiterated China's commitment to cooperation with Thailand on the operation, and noted that the incident had drawn the attention of the leaders of both China and Thailand.

Amb Lyu also again urged Thailand to improve the standards of safety for tourists.

"The leaders of the two countries are paying attention to this, they are following the developments closely," he said.

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has announced that he will visit Phuket tomorrow to follow up on the search operation before flying to Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai where the operation to rescue the 12 boys from the "Moo Pa" ("Wild Boars") football team and their 25-year-old coach from Tham Luang cave began earlier today.

Speaking at the press briefing today, Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat rated the Phoenix disaster as "the biggest natural disaster since the Asian Tsunami" in 2004.

His understanding of Phuket's history of disasters apparently overlooked the One-Two-GO Airlines disaster on Sept 16, 2007 in which Flight OG269 burst into flames on impact during storm conditions, killing 89 of the 130 persons on board. One survivor succumbed to burn injuries several days after the crash.

Regardless, Mr Weerasak said, "Nobody wanted this to happen. If it can be resolved quickly on the basis of mutual trust. To clarify what happened to society and to change the crisis into tourism confidence."

He noted that investigations were underway, including into the business involved in operating the Phoenix and the business involved in operating the Serendita, which sank off Koh Mai Thon in the same storm on Thursday, but with all 41 people on board rescued.

Mr Weerasak also noted that local businesses in Phuket are providing accommodation and use of other facilities and services for families of the victims and survivors now arriving on the island.

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Three centres have been set up to assist families of victims at Phuket International Airport, at Phuket Provincial Hall and at Vachira Phuket Hospital, he noted. As reported in the international media earlier today, all three venues have been scenes of deep grief as distressed families check with officials in the hope that their loved ones are still alive - or to collect their bodies.

Phuket Governor Norraphat today said that the preliminary investigation into the sinking had confirmed that the Phoenix was not overloaded at the time of the storm.

"The number of passengers on board did not exceed its legal limit," he said.

Governor Norraphat also noted that PM Prayut had instructed Tourism Minister Weerasak directly to ensure that all agencies cooperate fully in the search effort.

"And to follow this case to the end, and prevent this from happening again," he said.

A delegation of Chinese investigators and other officials soon to arrive in Phuket are to be given full support and cooperation, he added.

Police today again reassured that investigations were underway into the sinkings of both the Phoenix and the Serendita, including gathering evidence and taking statements from witnesses and survivors, and that the people responsible for the incident would face legal action.

Lt Gen Sorasak Yenpraem of Region 8 Police said that officers had already take statements from 40 witnesses.

Captains of both boats had already been charged, he said. The captain of the Phoenix for recklessness causing death, and the captain of the Serendita for recklessness causing bodily harm.

Late this afternoon the Bangkok Post reported that the Marine Dept had revoked the licences and operating permits for the Phoenix and Serendita. (See story here.)

The Phuket News has yet to confirm whether that means the operators have been banned from operating any boats, or just the two boats that sank.

Regardless, it was reported that Marine Dept Director-General Jirut Wisanjit said the certificates of knowledge and ability issued to the skippers of the two boats have also been revoked.

He said department officials have been instructed to provide full cooperation for the search and rescue operation.

In wrapping up the press briefing today, Phuket Governor Norraphat also urged that the media be responsible in their reporting of the disaster and ensuing operations.

"All related agencies have to do their homework on the basis of principles and facts. The question now is 72 hours after the event. All parties are trying to find the missing persons. This is the most urgent mission," he said.

"Now Thai society and all sides are filled with news, facts, news, pictures and clips published online, but the process requires verification.

Additional reporting by Eakkapop Thongtub

 

 

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Pauly44 | 09 July 2018 - 19:59:49

Premature! 40 + people are dead, all crew alive, it's a very minimum criminal negligence, in most countries it would be alot more for a Captain who took the boat out overloaded with such a forecast, when are you going to stop making your predictable pathetic insulting excuses?

Jor12 | 09 July 2018 - 14:02:42

Somewhat premature to suggest criminal negligence given the lack of information thus far.

CaptainJack | 09 July 2018 - 12:31:04

Someone needs to explain to the tourism minister the difference between a natural disaster and criminal negligence brought about through a culturally ingrained lack of respect for safety (hint: this was the latter) 

Shwe | 09 July 2018 - 05:59:49

lots of words as usual, but I doubt there will be any action, too much money at stake

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