Low Standards on Boat That Sank, Killing 47 Chinese Tourists

A crane boat raises the tour boat named the Pheonix from the sea floor in Phuket on Nov. 17, 2018.
A crane boat raises the tour boat named the Pheonix from the sea floor in Phuket on Nov. 17, 2018.

BANGKOK — Police say their investigations have found that a boat that sank in July in rough weather off Thailand’s southern resort island of Phuket, killing 47 Chinese tourists, didn’t meet regulatory standards.

The July 5 sinking of the Phoenix was one of Thailand’s worst recent tourism-related disasters. Three of the boat’s operators have been charged with negligence causing death — which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison — and a Marine Department official is one of at least two other people facing criminal charges. Another boat also carrying Chinese tourists sank on the same day but those on board were rescued.

Immigration Police chief Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said additional suspects are under investigation.

The accidents caused outrage in China about Thai safety procedures. Thai authorities promised justice for the victims, especially because of concern that the disaster could affect the tourism industry. More than 9.8 million Chinese visited Thailand in 2017, accounting for the biggest share of the 35.38 million foreign tourists.

Surachate told reporters Monday night that according to their investigations and examination of the vessel’s blueprints, the boat had only one watertight door instead of the recommended four, and that it didn’t have “marine windows” that could be broken open in case of an emergency.

“There were many people who died on the boat because they couldn’t break the windows to get out,” Surachate said.

Surachate said police will produce a final report on their investigations next week, adding that experts from China and Germany also helped examine the Phoenix’s structure.

The Phoenix was raised from the 45-meter- (150-foot-) deep sea floor on Nov. 17 by a crane ship operated by a salvage company from Singapore. Covered in brown algae and sludge, it was then docked at a pier in Phuket. The first company hired to salvage the boat lost a member of its team during its failed operation to lift the vessel.