Distraught relatives identify victims of sunken Thai tourist boat; 42 bodies recovered

Distraught relatives identify victims of sunken Thai tourist boat; 42 bodies recovered
PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK/PHUKET - Distraught relatives descended on a Thai hospital on Sunday (July 8) as many waited for news of missing family members who disappeared when a tourist boat sank in rough weather, killing dozens of Chinese passengers.

Recovery divers have pulled 42 bodies from the sea off the resort island of Phuket, but authorities have said 14 other passengers remain unaccounted for.

Rescuers are preparing to lift the sunken tourist boat, which capsized in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Ko He, a popular one-day trip from Phuket. The islet is known for its powdery beach and coral reefs.

The Phoenix - which had 105 people on board, including 93 Chinese tourists and 12 Thai crew - went down in bad weather last Thursday evening, in one of Thailand's worst recent accidents.

Police on Saturday said they have charged the ship's captain with negligence leading to damages, injury and death.

The captain, who was not named, has denied the charges.

"The captain of the boat has been charged with negligence causing damages and loss of life," Police Lieutenant General Sorasak Yenprem, provincial police commissioner, said on Saturday.

A note circulated by rescue workers invited reporters to join an effort on Sunday to raise the sunken Phoenix.

Divers have been searching inside the submerged vessel for any survivors. Helicopters have also joined the search.

The latest victim was found on Sunday, officials said.

Photo: AFP

Relatives have been asked to identify their next-of-kin through photographs and to provide DNA samples.

The ashen-faced families wiped back tears in a waiting area of the Vachira Hospital on Sunday while several got increasingly agitated when asked for further information.

"I've already told you the name, why can't you take me there now?" a man was heard shouting at hospital staff.

A Chinese woman who only wanted to be identified by her family name, Su, said she was still waiting to claim the body of her sister, Su Jiao Min.

"There should definitely be compensation (for the accident)," she told Agence France-Presse (AFP) while waiting to be signed into the hospital.

"But I don't want to talk about that right now. All I want is to identify and claim (my sister's) body and return home."

Some have called for legal action to be taken after the boat was among three that ignored a bad weather warning against day trips to the islands surrounding the tourist magnet of Phuket.

Mr Gao Kai, who arrived in Phuket on Saturday, said the bodies of his eight-year-old daughter and seven-year-old nephew were identified on Saturday, but he was still waiting for news of his wife, sister and brother-in-law.

"The adults still haven't been found. We're waiting for them to return so we can take them home," he told AFP, breaking down several times during the interview.

The Thai navy has said it will coordinate the continuing search with a fishermen's network.

"(The) navy is preparing personnel and equipment to dive to check on the sunken boat for possibly more victims trapped inside the boat," it said in a statement, adding that 25 of the bodies retrieved so far were found on the vessel, which is submerged over 40m below the surface of the Andaman Sea.

Seventeen Chinese divers joined the operation on Saturday to recover bodies.

On Sunday, the Chinese ambassador to Thailand said in a briefing that investigators would also arrive to probe the cause of the accident.

Some 48 people - passengers and crew - were rescued last Thursday, while a Chinese woman was plucked from the churning waters last Friday and rushed to hospital in Phuket after spending the night in the water.

In an urgent circular on Saturday, China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism said tourism departments across China should carry out security checks against hidden risks to ensure travel safety during the summer period.

It also stressed the importance of researching online travel companies when booking overseas trips.

Many of the tourists involved in the Phuket accident booked their trips independently via online tourism platforms, the ministry said.

The accident is one of the worst boating disasters in recent history in Thailand, a nation with a poor health and safety track record despite being heavily dependent on tourism.

Last year, 9.8 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand, with five million more arriving between January and May this year.

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