56 missing in Thai resort boat capsize; divers mobilised

2018-07-06 08:02
Thai rescue and paramedic personnel attend to rescued passengers of capsized tourist boat in rough seas at a port in Phuket on July 5, 2018. (Kritsada MUENHAWONG / AFP)

Thai rescue and paramedic personnel attend to rescued passengers of capsized tourist boat in rough seas at a port in Phuket on July 5, 2018. (Kritsada MUENHAWONG / AFP)

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Thai navy divers prepared on Friday to search for 56 mostly Chinese tourists missing after a storm capsized their diving boat off the resort island of Phuket.

The commander of Phuket Provincial Police, Teerapol Tipcharoen, said the sea had calmed since Thursday evening's accident and the search was ongoing.

A navy deputy commander, Charoenpol Kumrasri, said they hope survivors can be found in the boat, which sits about 30m below the surface. He said about 30 navy divers would be sent to take part.

The boat was carrying 105 people, including 93 tourists, 11 crew and one tour guide when it toppled in 5-metre-high seas. One Chinese male passenger has been confirmed dead and at least 12 people hospitalised.

The incident comes as rescuers, also led by Thai navy divers, struggle to extract 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in the country's far north, where they've been trapped since June 23.

Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong said on Thursday night that 48 passengers were rescued from the boat, with 49 unaccounted for. Police previously said 90 people had been rescued from the boat and just seven were missing. The reason for the discrepancies was not clear.

Another boat also overturned off Phuket on Thursday. Officials said all 42 on board have been rescued.

Jin Yilin, consul-general of the Chinese Embassy in Thailand, said a delegation from the Chinese Foreign Ministry is on the way to Thailand.

Thai media showed photos of rescued people in large rubber life rafts at sea, with fishing boats and churning water in the background. The images also showed survivors being lifted from the rafts and sitting in life jackets amid ropes on the deck of what appears to be a fishing trawler.

Phuket officials had earlier issued a warning of severe weather until Tuesday, including heavy rain and winds.

"All agencies are co-operating in their search at this time," Norraphat said. "We have given warnings ... but the winds are strong."

He said officials would consider whether to ban boats from going to sea during strong winds.

Thai PBS television reported late on Thursday that 12 boats with 263 passengers in all had been forced by the weather to stay docked at Racha island, a popular diving spot about an hour's boat ride from Phuket.

They said they were providing food, shelter and water to the people, and if the weather did not clear, larger boats belonging to the navy would be sent to retrieve them.

The Thai incidents came after an overloaded boat carrying illegal Indonesian immigrants capsized in bad weather off Malaysia's southern Johor state late on Sunday.

The Malaysian coast guard said on Friday that 25 people, including a woman, have been rescued. Ten others, including four women, were found dead. Rescue operations involving 150 personnel are ongoing for another nine people believed to be still missing.

Such tragedies are not uncommon in Malaysia. Many Indonesians are willing to risk their lives by travelling on boats believed to be old and unsafe to work in Malaysia illegally, or to return to their hometowns.

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