At least 37 people have been found dead and dozens are still missing after a boat carrying mostly Chinese tourists capsized in rough waters off the Thai resort island of Phuket, Thai officials said.
Many of the dead were found drifting face down in the water, still wearing life jackets, several kilometers from where the three-decker vessel Phoenix sank after being hit by five-meter (15-foot) high waves in a storm on Thursday evening, Agence France-Presse reported.
The boat had 105 people on board, 93 of them Chinese tourists along with 12 Thai crew and tour guides, Reuters said.
A Marine Department official was quoted by Reuters as saying there was probably “no chance” any more survivors could be found from inside the boat.
“A day and a night has passed,” said the department’s deputy director-general, Kritpetch Chaichuay.
CNN said the Thai Navy, marine police and local fishermen searched for survivors Thursday evening, but called off their operation late at night.
They resumed their search again Friday morning, dispatching helicopters, fishing vessels and divers to scour the waters.
Thailand is in the middle of its rainy season, which usually runs from May to October, and often generates high winds and flash storms in coastal areas, especially on its west coast on the Indian Ocean, where Phuket is located.
Police are investigating the incident. The boat, which went down about 7 kilometers (5 miles) from shore, was properly registered and had not been overloaded, police said.
Tourist Police Bureau deputy chief, Major General Surachate Hakparn, said in a post on Facebook tour operators had been warned about the severe weather.
“Be careful … nature is not a joke,” Surachate wrote.
“The Tourist Police warned businesses in Phuket already to not take boats out from shore, but they violated this order by taking foreign tourists out,” he said.
Thailand has a poor record on road and boat safety, according to Reuters. Many tour operators have complained about lax enforcement of basic safety measures, such as seatbelts in cars and lifejackets on boats.
“The skies were clear when we went out, we had no idea the weather could change so fast,” AFP quoted one of the survivors, Wu Jun, 28, as saying from the hospital bedside of his wife Long Hai Ning.
Another boat sailing in the same area also capsized on Thursday but all 35 tourists, five crew and a guide on board were rescued, according to Reuters, citing the Water Safety Department of the Harbour Department.
The Chinese embassy in Bangkok said it had asked the Thai government to make all-out rescue efforts, and had sent a team to Phuket to help.
Chinese consulate staff in southern Thailand were on the scene helping its citizens, it said.
Chinese tourists make up the biggest number of foreign visitors to Thailand, their numbers surging in recent years, drawn by the growing popularity of the Southeast Asian nation’s islands.
In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman said China’s top leaders, including President Xi Jinping, were paying close attention to the incident.
“China expresses gratitude for the active search and rescue efforts made by Thailand,” the spokesman, Lu Kang, told a regular briefing.
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