Body of girl, 12, found inside gutted Thai ferry

BANGKOK - The body of a 12-year-old Israeli girl was discovered trapped in the toilet of a packed Phuket-bound ferry that eyewitnesses said was quickly gutted by a fire that began at the rear of the vessel.

In a dramatic rescue off Krabi, a popular Thai tourist destination, more than 100 horrified tourists jumped into the sea to escape the blaze and were rescued by fishing trawlers and speedboats nearby.

Among the passengers rescued were nationals from Britain, the United States and China.

Initially, Krabi police had said everyone on board the Ao Nang Princess 5 was safe, but the Israeli girl was later listed as missing.

The search was called off owing to strong currents and darkness after the sudden blaze on Wednesday.

It resumed yesterday morning.

"Divers found her body at around 11am inside the toilet at the rear of the boat," Lieutenant- General Decha Butnampetch, the southern region police commander, told Agence France-Presse.

He added that she was the sole fatality and that her family had been informed. She was said to have been travelling with her parents and brother.

"She must have suffocated to death as the fire drew near," the Bangkok Post quoted rescue worker Nati Hadad as saying.

Passenger Panupon Rattanakornpanya told Thai Rath Online that crew members told him that a fire had broken out and ordered everyone to gather at the bow of the vessel.

"Everyone was in a panic. Some were crying, said the 44-year-old. "Many grabbed jackets and passed them to others before we jumped into the water."