BANGKOK, Thailand – A ship that capsized in July off the coast of Thailand’s tourist hotspot Phuket – leaving dozens of Chinese tourists dead – was plucked out of the sea on Saturday, immigration officials said.
In July, the Phoenix was carrying 105 people when it sank on the way back from a popular snorkeling spot.
Divers and the navy spent more than a week retrieving bodies, some from within the watery tomb, bringing the death toll to 47 Chinese tourists.
More than 4 months after the tragic incident, Thai authorities were able to retrieve the Phoenix using a 1,000-ton crane ship hired from Singapore at a cost of 35 million baht, about US$1 million, said a statement issued by the Thai immigration police department.
“The Phoenix was brought to the surface at 3:20 pm,” it said.
According to photos provided by the Thai immigration police, the once-white vessel emerged from the water covered entirely in sea silt, with people in life jackets working to hoist it to the massive crane ship.
Deputy national police chief Rungrot Saengkram said the authorities needed to salvage the Phoenix “to express sincerity to the Chinese government”.
He added that they wanted to determine the “real reason” for the capsizing.
The Phoenix was among three vessels which ignored a bad weather warning against island day trips on the day of the accident.
“Investigators, experts and engineers from Germany, and forensics will examine the structure of the Phoenix to see whether the equipment was up to standard,” said Rungrot.
One of the worst boating accidents in recent history in Thailand, the Phoenix capsizing and the death of dozens hit the tourism sector hard, with the number of arrivals from China dropping off steadily since July.
The impact was immediate, with August tourism statistics showing a nearly 12 percent decline in Chinese arrivals, as they were scared and angered by the boat tragedy.
“The Thai government sincerely wants to rebuild the confidence with the Chinese government and I hope the situation improves,” said General Surachate Hakparn, immigration police chief.
Thailand’s tourism ministry revised its forecast of Chinese arrivals – who typically make up a quarter of the country’s annual 35 million visitors – down by 670,000 for the rest of the year.
Since July, authorities have reacted swiftly to any issues facing Chinese tourists.
In September, a video clip of a Chinese tourist being hit by an airport guard in Thailand prompted a flurry of apologies from the highest levels, as the government went into damage control to stave off more bad publicity.
The immigration bureau has also removed a visa-on-arrival fee for Chinese tourists, who would have paid about US$60 in the past to enter the country. The exemption period began on Thursday, November 15, and will continue until mid-January. – Rappler.com