A BUDDHIST CEREMONY was held yesterday to commemorate the passengers who died in a recent tour-boat tragedy off Phuket, while the search resumed for one person who remained missing.
The ceremony took place at the Ao Chalong pier early yesterday morning to boost the morale of grieving relatives who were present, along with locals and Chinese authorities.
The navy has deployed divers to the location where the Phoenix capsized on July 4 off Koh He to retrieve a body trapped under the shipwreck. Officials were also conducting patrols to search for the final missing person.
Phuket Governor Noraphat Plodthong said the death toll was at 45 and 43 bodies had been identified. Forty-two people survived the sinking of the tour boat. Most passengers on the Phoenix were Chinese.
Funerals were being organised at local Buddhist temples on the instructions of relatives, the governor said.
According to Phuket’s public-relations office, at the time of sinking the 103 Phoenix passengers numbered 14 crew members and 89 tourists, most of them Chinese. All crew members survived.
At a press conference yesterday morning, Norraphat said: “We have found 42 survivors, and 45 bodies have been recovered. One body is still stuck inside the Phoenix and unable to be recovered at this stage. So just one [passenger] still remains missing.” The search area has been widened to include Phang Nga, Krabi, Phi Phi Island and Satun province.
Meanwhile, the Tourist Police Bureau has revealed that the Phoenix was not “fit for purpose” for operations in the seas off Phuket. As well, the buoyancy aids that were provided to passengers failed to meet the minimum standards required for safety vests.
The Serenata, a second boat loaded with tourists, also capsized in the same area in the Andaman Sea off Phuket on July 4 but without fatalities.
In the latest zero-dollar tour investigation linked to the two boats that sank last Thursday, tourist police seized 21 non-standard buoyancy aids at an office believed to be the operations centre for boat tours involving the Phoenix.
Tourist Police Deputy Commander Maj-General Surachate Hakparn said, “Yesterday we went to Tanawat shipyard in Rassada where the Phoenix was built. We have found that a twin boat of the Phoenix, with the same blueprints, is currently being prepared and was constructed here, too. The other boat has already been moved to another area after 70 per cent of its construction has been completed.”
“A boat engineer and consultant have analysed the plans for the vessels and determined that the Phoenix’ design has inherent problems.
“The design seems to have many flaws. The boat should not take to sea with many passengers. The most important thing is the engine-door design at the lower level of the boat. When seawater got into the boat, the boat engine would be flooded and would stop working.
“We have also found that the ‘lifejackets’ do not measure up to international standards. Those ‘life jackets’ were made at a manufacturing company in Lop Buri, 150 kilometres northeast of Bangkok, but the jackets are labelled as made in Nakhon Ratchasima province. We are now working with the Office of the Consumer Protection Board to find out more about these jackets.
“We want to tell Thai people who have acted as nominees for foreigners to stop doing this. Relevant officers and I are collecting evidence to take the highest level of legal action against these offenders. I am sure that there are many businesses working as nominees.
“After the boat has been recovered, I will return to clear these nominee issues. If any government office is found to be involved with the boats and their ability to be used to take tours in Phuket, legal action will be taken against them.”