Thai boat sinking: Grim search for passengers continues

Relatives at a graveyard in the ancient tourist city of Ayutthaya attending the funeral of a victim of the overcrowded boat that sank in the Chao Phraya River on Sunday. At least 18 passengers died, while the boat's captain is in custody and faces a
Relatives at a graveyard in the ancient tourist city of Ayutthaya attending the funeral of a victim of the overcrowded boat that sank in the Chao Phraya River on Sunday. At least 18 passengers died, while the boat's captain is in custody and faces a negligence charge.PHOTO: REUTERS

AYUTTHAYA (Thailand) • Divers located a young boy's body yesterday as they resumed the search for missing passengers after an overcrowded boat carrying Muslim pilgrims sank on the Chao Phraya River, leaving at least 18 dead.

The accident happened on Sunday afternoon near the ancient city of Ayutthaya, a popular tourist site, when a boat packed with pilgrims returning from a mosque hit a concrete bank in strong currents.

Scores of people lined the bank yesterday as divers plunged into the swollen, brown waters for the grim task of searching the partially submerged boat for the missing.

Distraught relatives wept as the body of an eight-year-old boy was pulled from the wreckage and laid in a white plastic sheet, an Agence France-Presse (AFP) team on site reported.

Using a whiteboard, rescuers kept track of the missing, which by lunchtime stood at 13 named people, six of whom were children.

Ayutthaya deputy governor Rewat Prasong said the confirmed death toll was 18, with 12 missing and 14 hospitalised. Foreigners are not thought to be among the dead.

The boat's captain is in custody and faces a negligence charge after allowing the vessel to become overcrowded, police told AFP.

"The boat has permission to carry about 50 people but it was carrying more than 100 people," said Ayutthaya police chief Sudhi Puengpikul.

The boat sank as it was returning from a memorial for a Muslim scholar at an Ayutthaya mosque.

Television footage showed the boat stopping abruptly as it appeared to hit the concrete bank, sinking within seconds.

Thai broadcasters showed desperate scenes of the aftermath as passengers were pulled from the water while rescuers attempted to resuscitate stricken people.

Many of the dead were trapped on the lower deck of the boat. Officials said its proximity to the bank may have prevented the toll from being even higher.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2016, with the headline 'Thai boat sinking: Grim search for passengers continues'. Print Edition | Subscribe