60 hurt as commuter boat engine explodes in Bangkok

Police officers and officials (left) inspecting what is left of the commuter boat at Wat Thep Leela Pier in Bangkok yesterday. An initial police investigation suggested the explosion (below left) was caused by a fuel leak.
Police officers and officials (above) inspecting what is left of the commuter boat at Wat Thep Leela Pier in Bangkok yesterday.PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, KHAOSOD TV/YOUTUBE
Police officers and officials (left) inspecting what is left of the commuter boat at Wat Thep Leela Pier in Bangkok yesterday. An initial police investigation suggested the explosion (below left) was caused by a fuel leak.
An initial police investigation suggested the explosion (above) was caused by a fuel leak.PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, KHAOSOD TV/YOUTUBE

BANGKOK/JAKARTA • Sixty people were taken to hospital yesterday, mostly for burns, after the engine on a Bangkok commuter boat exploded and sent passengers leaping to a nearby pier or into the water, officials and reports said.

The crowded boat was ferrying passengers on a major canal on the eastern outskirts of the Thai capital, which boasts an extensive network of waterways that teem with motorised commuter boats during rush hour.

Most of the injured were later released from hospital after their minor injuries were attended to, but 14 were still receiving treatment, according to the city's Erawan emergency medical centre. It said three foreigners - two Myanmar nationals and one Japanese - were among those injured.

Bangkok police commissioner Sanit Mahathavorn said two passengers were seriously hurt by flying debris from the explosion, which shook the wooden boat but largely left its hull intact.

"Most of the injured passengers are suffering from burns," the officer told reporters from the pier on the wide canal where the accident took place shortly after dawn.

An initial police investigation indicated the combustion was caused by a fuel leak onboard. "We found that gas leaked at the boat's rear and caused an explosion in its engine," he said.

Witnesses interviewed on Channel 3 described a loud bang just as the boat was docking, sending some passengers racing for the pier, while others leapt into the canal's murky waters.

The director of Family Transport, a private firm that runs the boat service, told the network he had suspended services of 25 boats that run on liquefied natural gas while the inquiry was ongoing.

"We still don't know how it exploded," he said, adding that the boats have been using gas-powered engines for up to eight years.

The shuttle was travelling on Saen Saeb canal, which runs through the heart of the capital and eventually connects to its main river, the Chao Praya.

The canal boat rides cost no more than US$1 (S$1.37) and are among the cheapest and swiftest forms of transport in traffic-choked Bangkok. The boats run around 100,000 passenger journeys a day, according to official figures from 2012.

Separately in Indonesia, one person was dead and four others were missing after a ferry capsized on Friday. Mr Didi Hanzar, head of Bali Search and Rescue Office, said yesterday that the ferry's manifest showed 51 people, including 14 crew, on board. But boats are often overloaded in Indonesia.

"The fact is we have evacuated safely 76 people and found one body, and according to the information here, four people, one of them a child, are still missing," Mr Hanzar said. The ferry, Rafelia II, capsized due to a leak when it was leaving Gilimanuk port in Bali for Ketapang port in East Java.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 06, 2016, with the headline '60 hurt as commuter boat engine explodes in Bangkok'. Print Edition | Subscribe