PHUKET • One man died and dozens of Chinese tourists were missing after a boat capsized as high winds whipped up rough seas off the Thai island of Phuket, officials said late yesterday, adding the rescue had been suspended for the night.
The Phoenix was carrying around 90 passengers when it began to keel over after it was hit by massive waves, prompting a rescue operation that stretched into the night and left the authorities scrambling to react.
The body of a man wearing a life jacket with the logo of the Phoenix was pulled from the sea late yesterday.
"There are 53 people missing," the governor of southern Phuket, Mr Noraphat Plodthong, told reporters.
"We have stopped the rescue... we'll start again in the morning."
The boat was returning to Phuket from Koh Racha at around 4pm local time when a storm hit, according to the captain, who identified himself as Somjing Boontham in a televised interview.
He said the boat was hit by 5m-high waves, which flooded the boat, and it started to slowly keel over, prompting him to warn the passengers to put on life jackets and trigger inflatable life rafts.
"So I sent someone to them to wear life jackets... They were all Chinese visitors - apart from two farang," he said, using the Thai vernacular for Westerners, and added that around half the passengers were unaccounted for.
Phuket is a magnet for overseas visitors, including Western sun-seekers and Chinese tourists who will make up the bulk of the 35 million people expected to visit the kingdom this year.
Governor Noraphat said Phuket officials had issued a weather warning on Wednesday alerting the public about impending storms. He added that a further 10 pleasure boats were stranded at sea.
In a separate incident in the same area yesterday evening, a yacht called the Senerita, carrying 39 people, also capsized in the high seas, the officials added.
All of the passengers were pulled from the sea alive.
Thailand has a sketchy health and safety record, and accidents are common on its roads and busy waterways - especially during the monsoon season which is now biting.
Separately, there was also a report that two Russians went missing while riding a jet ski off Koh Racha during the storm.
The kingdom is already in the global spotlight over a dramatic rescue mission in the north of the country, after 12 boys and their football coach were trapped in a cave complex.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK