Pattaya Daily News

09 March 2009 :: 19:03:00 pm 38848

Tourist Boat Capsizes In Andaman Sea; Seven Missing

PHUKET, March 9 - A dive boat carrying about 30 Thai and foreigners capsized in the Andaman Sea during a heavy storm, and Thai rescue crew are continuing to search for seven people, including foreign nationals who are still missing at sea, marine police said on Monday.
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The accident occurred after the commuter boat “Choke Somboon 19″ left the Similan Islands at about 9pm on Sunday. The boat and its passengers were scheduled to return and arrive at Phuket’s Patong Beach at 5am Monday. 

As the boat was enroute, it capsized due to heavy rain, wind and high seas, the Marine Police said. 

Twenty-four passengers have been rescued, but seven — two Swiss nationals, two Australians, one Japanese, one German and a Thai crew member are still missing, police said. 

Police said the search is difficult because the rescue response teams do not know the exact location where the boat overturned and sank, they added, because the boat may have been blown off course. (TNA) 

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LEAD: Japanese, Western tourists missing after boat sinks in Thailand

Seven people, including five Western tourists and a Japanese man, are missing after their diving boat sank in the Andaman Sea off Thailand’s resort island of Phuket, police said Monday. 

Pol. Col. Anan Huangsaithong, the chief of Phuket’s Marine Police, said the boat carrying at least 30 people including four Japanese left Phuket for scuba diving in the vicinity of the Similan Islands on Sunday afternoon. 

The boat is thought to have sunk around 10 p.m. Sunday night amid a storm, he said, adding that it sank not more than 15 nautical miles (27.8 kilometers) off Phuket. After the boat failed to arrive back as scheduled early Monday morning, a search operation was mounted and at least 23 people were rescued at sea. Five Westerners, one Japanese man and one Thai believed to be a crew member remained missing as of nightfall. 

The Japanese Embassy has confirmed the safety of three Japanese who were on the boat. The missing Japanese man is said by sources to be a 44-year-old man from Nara Prefecture. Marine Police and the Thai navy were continuing a search and rescue operation

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Australian rescued after Thailand boat capsizes 

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade this morning confirmed an Australian man was involved in the incident. 

“We”ve confirmed that he has been rescued and the Australian embassy (in Bangkok) is trying to make contact with him,” a DFAT spokesman said. 

Seven people, including six foreigners, remain missing. 

Lieutenant Colonel Panya Chaichana of the Phuket police said the 23 passengers and crew were picked up but two Swiss nationals, two Austrians, one Japanese national, one German and a Thai crew member were missing. 

“We suspect the boat sank in the deep water outside Patong beach (on Phuket) due to heavy storms … We are still searching for the other passengers who are still missing,”” he said. 

“The survivors were found on two rubber rafts and said that their boat sank because of a sudden heavy storm … we will continue searching until the night, using police boats and a navy helicopter. 

“The chance for survival is more than 50 per cent because we are using the helicopter and we can search further than using just the boat.”

According to one survivor”s account, the boat was caught up in a sudden storm, hit by three waves and capsized. 

Those picked up from the sea were reported to be well, with only sunburn and scratches as injuries. 

The dive boat, named Choke Somboon, sent out a distress message late on Sunday as it was returning to Phuket. 

Dive Asia, the owner of the boat, asked that a search-and-rescue operation be launched yesterday morning. 

The boat itself is advertised on the company”s website as a “luxurious flagship”, with air-conditioning, a saloon, a bar, a multimedia centre and a large sun deck.

The Similan Islands, a national marine park, is one of Thailand”s best-preserved scuba and snorkelling destinations. 

Hotels and guest houses are prohibited on the islands to conserve the environment. 

In September 2007, an Israeli tourist died and another was injured when a boat carrying 59 people capsized near Phi Phi, also along the Andaman coast. 

The boat”s captain Chakri Leechuay told the English-language newspaper Phuket Gazette weather conditions were calm before a vortex of “red wind” hit the boat at about 11pm. 

The wind made the boat spin violently and eventually sink, he said. 

Mr Chakri said he was aware of the possibility of bad weather but had been confident the 30-metre boat was large enough to withstand an average storm. 

He had never experienced such freak weather conditions, he said.

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Thailand News

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