Taiwan orders faulty tour buses off road after deadly fire

Relatives of the Chinese tourists who died in a tour bus fire in Taiwan arriving on the island last week for a memorial service for their loved ones.
Relatives of the Chinese tourists who died in a tour bus fire in Taiwan arriving on the island last week for a memorial service for their loved ones.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Nine fail new safety checks carried out after 24 Chinese and two Taiwanese died in tragedy

Taipei • Taiwan yesterday ordered almost half the tour buses inspected after a recent bus inferno - which killed dozens of Chinese tourists - off the road after they failed new safety checks.

Twenty-four Chinese tourists and two Taiwanese nationals died in the fire last week. It was the worst road accident ever to happen to mainland visitors to the island, raising major safety questions.

Nine of 20 buses of the model which caught fire have been taken off the road due to problems with circuit fuses and storage batteries, highway department officials said.

Three more such buses had minor issues, which the authorities required to be addressed.

The bus involved in the deadly incident, operated by Mei Kui Shih Transportation, caught fire and smashed through an expressway barrier just a few kilometres from Taipei's Taoyuan airport.

Taiwanese prosecutors are probing the exact cause of the disaster and say the fire started at the front of the bus, near the driver's seat.

Questions have been raised over the driver's mental state after five bottles of petrol were found in the bus - despite rules banning storing inflammable substances in a vehicle.

CHECKING DRIVER'S BACKGROUND

We have twice searched residences of the driver and looked into his medical records to clarify his mental state prior to the accident.

MR WANG YI-WEN, a spokesman for the Taoyuan district prosecutors' office, on the search for clues to the driver's mental state after five bottles of petrol were found in the bus - despite rules banning inflammable substances in a vehicle.

"We have twice searched residences of the driver and looked into his medical records to clarify his mental state prior to the accident," said a spokesman for the Taoyuan district prosecutors' office, Mr Wang Yi-wen.

The driver's relatives and fellow workers are being questioned, he added.

Distraught relatives of the Chinese victims have questioned why no one was able to escape through the emergency exits when the fire ripped through the bus.

Pictures from the scene show two men outside the bus trying to smash windows with fire extinguishers.

One eyewitness said trapped passengers inside the bus had been pounding on the windows as it careered off the road.

Chinese officials have demanded Taiwan take measures to ensure the safety of mainland visitors to the island.

The accident is expected to deal a further blow to cross-strait tourism, with ties between Taiwan and China already increasingly frosty since new Beijing-sceptic leader Tsai Ing-wen took office in May.

Taiwan's official data shows the number of Chinese tourists to the island fell 16 per cent in May-July, compared to the same period last year, with speculation that Beijing is putting pressure on Ms Tsai by squeezing tourism.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2016, with the headline 'Taiwan orders faulty tour buses off road after deadly fire'. Print Edition | Subscribe