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Two years ago – remembering Phuket’s Phoenix boat tragedy

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“There were 13 children that died in this disaster. Many were later found dead, floating face down, not far from their deceased parents.”

On an otherwise ordinary afternoon, two tour boats, Phoenix and Serenata, were heading back to Phuket after a half day tour of snorkelling near Koh Racha. The weather forecast was for seasonal monsoonal SW winds and waves, about the usual for that time of the year.

But there was also a weather warning for a storm later in the afternoon of July 5, 2018. For whatever reasons the captains of the two vessels started heading back to Phuket despite the warnings or perhaps in full ignorance of them. Even a look to the SW horizon would have indicated some poor weather was on the way.

Two years ago - remembering Phuket's Phoenix boat tragedy | News by The Thaiger

The tour boat Phoenix, as it appeared in promotional websites

Zheng Lancheng had travelled from China with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and 18 month old granddaughter for a trip to the tropical southern Thai island. Phoenix was carrying 101 passengers – 89 tourists, all but 2 were Chinese, 11 crew and a tour guide.

As the boats were off Koh Hei, south west of Phuket, a storm front, now looming large as it approached (a radar screenshot had even been posted by The Thaiger about 30 minutes before the tragedy), reached the two boats whipping up waves. The height of the waves was reported to be up to 5 metres by the Captain of Phoenix (but were more likely around 3 metres).

A boat of the size of Phoenix, in capable hands, should have handled the conditions, whilst uncomfortable for the passengers, with relative ease.

But Phoenix wasn’t just a standard purpose-built 29 metre diving boat. It had some major design and construction flaws which would contribute to the death toll on the day. Loose concrete blocks had been placed into the boats bilge to provide ballast and stability. These concrete blocks would shift as the boat started capsizing and make a bad situation worse. The boat had one watertight door, it should have had four. And the windows, smashing when the water hit them, were not marine-grade glass.

More about the boat’s shortcomings HERE.

Mr. Zheng and his family didn’t know what was going on. The boat was ‘shaking’ and passengers, although remaining silent, were ‘clearly frightened’. Suddenly the boat started lurching and tipping over. People started screaming. Most were still below decks because of the rain. Few were wearing life vests or bouyancy vests. Mr. Zheng, above decks with his family, held on to his wife but her knee had been injured. Suddenly he was in the water. Eventually many of the survivors would be found to be wearing non-compliant bouyancy vests.

He later told police there was no warning, no advice from crew beyond ‘Get out’.

Other witness reports say that the Thai crew and Captain, all saved on the day, were the first to get off the boat leaving more than half the passengers below decks and many other floundering around in the water.

Mr. Zheng struggled onto one of the life rafts, dragged in by other bewildered passengers. By this stage the boat had sunk.

“There were no words between any of us in the rubber boat. All of us were stunned. We could only hear the sounds of the sea.”

Mr Zheng said if they had known there would be a big rubber boat floating around after their boat sank, they might have first put on life vests and jumped in the vicinity to be saved.

“However, we knew nothing about it. No one gave us any warnings or guidance.”

There were 13 children that died in this disaster. Many were later found dead, floating face down, not far from their deceased parents. In total, 47 people died as a result of the Phoenix sinking.

The other boat, Serenata, had also sunk off Koh Mai Thon but its 42 passengers were all rescued.

In the days following there were countless missteps and mishandling by Thai officials and politicians. Among them the Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan pushing the blame onto the boat’s ‘real’ owners saying the situation was just “Chinese killing Chinese”, alluding to the early revelation that the boat was really owned and funded by Chinese who merely had a Thai ‘shelf’ company to comply with the law.

“Some Chinese use Thai nominees to bring Chinese tourists in. They did not heed warnings, which is why this incident happened. This needs to be remedied,” Prawit said.

But what warnings? The boat had been ticked off, approved and registered by Thai Authorities. Clearly unsuitable for its designed purposes, the vessel had been able to conduct tours with paying customers – all under the watch of Thai marine officials. For all the finger pointing and shifting of blame, the cause of the deaths lay fairly and squarely at the feet of the Thai authorities, the Thai Captain and Thai crew who had it within their entire control to avoid the loss of life.

Then, the final insult, as the Thai Government tries to auction off the wreck of Phoenix saying they needed to pay for the storage fees at the Rasada shipyard where the broken relic still sits.

Read our editorial about the auction HERE.

Two years later and the fallout can be properly measured. Probably the most obvious is the drop in Chinese tourism (which was already languishing before the coronavirus pandemic stated). Chinese social media savaged the handling of the entire Phoenix ‘situation’ and was candid in recommending that Chinese tourists avoid Phuket and Thailand in the future. And that, in part, has happened.

Phuket’s Chinese tourist flow dropped dramatically, up to 30-50% year on year (based on hotel bookings, tour bookings and airport arrivals). There was also a drop in Chinese patronage for the rest of Thailand although the Thai government stepped up measures to keep the numbers rolling on, including the waiver of the visa-on-arrival fee and special ‘Chinese only’ immigration queues.

From a media point of view, Phuket largely ‘dodged a bullet’ as the world’s media was focused on the ongoing drama at Tham Luang Caves, luckily with a much happier ending (the rescue of the 13 young men from the caves in Chiang Rai). The Phoenix boat tragedy was not as widely reported as it would have been normally.

But Phuket’s reputation had been wounded. The stench of the unnecessary 47 deaths has tarnished the island’s ‘tropical playground’ sales point and will hang over the island for years, especially in the minds of Chinese visitors.

Last year the Phuket Governor said there would be no memorial for the 47 lost lives “because no one wants one”. He also told The Phuket News last year that the Chinese government and Chinese tourists now had more confidence in the safety of tourism in Phuket because the number of Chinese tourists travelling to Phuket has increased steadily after the incident (but never reached anywhere near the same popularity).

His misinformed comment, unchallenged by Thai reporters, bore no resemblance to the facts or explained hotel occupancies in Phuket sitting at record lows and the absence of the earlier throngs of Chinese travellers pre-Phoenix disaster.

Tow years later, the weather in Phuket is fine, with moderate winds, cloudy skies and a temperature of 31 – a perfect day for a tour off Phuket’s coast to one of the many, many islands (except there are very few boats running at the moment).

Now Phuket faces an existential threat to its tourist business – a tiny virus that has shut down the island’s tourism almost completely – that will be even more complex to survive than the Phoenix boat disaster. But the island has survived numerous hits in the past and, somehow, is able to rebuild following the disruptions.

Two years after that fateful day off the south east coast of the island Phuket is a very quiet place indeed.

Two years ago - remembering Phuket's Phoenix boat tragedy | News by The Thaiger

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Phil

    Monday, July 6, 2020 at 1:35 pm

    The “tiny virus” has not shut down tourism in Phuket. The government has done that. This tragic boat story was not widely publicised outside of Thailand on mainstream news, but it did make other news. I remember seeing it in Dubai, just before I travelled to Thailand on business.

  2. Avatar

    Toby Andrews

    Monday, July 6, 2020 at 2:20 pm

    This country allows 13 year old boys to ride motorcycles without licenses, so what hope is there that they supply competent tourist boat crews.
    The Phuket Thai authorities, the captain, and crew, were all to blame according to reports above.
    I believe it.

  3. Avatar

    gosport

    Monday, July 6, 2020 at 5:55 pm

    It is not the virus, it is the local administration shut it down. it is the looking the other way puts tourists at risk.

  4. Avatar

    Steve Wooltorton

    Tuesday, January 12, 2021 at 6:36 pm

    Nothing has been learnt and nothing has changed, this month I took a ferry to Muk island Trang, not even a guard rail on starboard side and no lifejackets to be seen, the gang plank was broken and elderly people had to use this to get on and off ,nothing will ever change in a third world country

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Events

Thai police officer gets slap down after trying to marry mistress

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Thai police officer gets slap down after trying to marry mistress | The Thaiger

A Thai policeman is making headlines after getting a slap down from his own mother after he attempted to marry his mistress. The man went as far as scheduling a wedding, with monks present to bless the union, but his mom and real wife of 16 years, along with their kids, aged 5 and 15, crashed the party.

Nipapan Peuchpen, his legal wife, brought her marriage license to the nuptuals that took place in Chai Nat province, arguing that her husband had no right to marry another woman.

“This is our marriage license. I don’t know how they can go through with this.”

The policeman told his wife that the monks were already here, and that she wasn’t a guest and to go home. Then the man’s mother showed up and slapped him in the head. According to Khaosod English, the mother issued a statement to Amarin TV.

“I always taught him to not mess around with adultery. I warned him so many times. Now he has to reap what he sowed. At first, I understood that being adulterous to some extent was normal for men. But I didn’t think he would go this far.”

“I want this to be a lesson to all women! If you know a man already has a family, don’t be a homewrecker. I don’t understand why the bride got married to him, knowing that he was already married.”

Nipapan and her lawyer filed a legal complaint to the Chai Nai Juvenile and Family Court against the policeman’s girlfriend, asking for compensation for trying to marry her husband when he was already married.

Thailand has always been a culture where adultery has somewhat been tolerated, as many Thai men have lovers on the side, called a Mia Noi. But, legally, only 1 marriage can be registered at a time.

SOURCE: Khaosod English

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Events

Australians wake up to Facebook news blackout

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Australians wake up to Facebook news blackout | The Thaiger

Facebook is under fire as Australians accuse the social media giant of censoring news along with emergency services in an apparent blackout. This morning, residents logged in, saying they weren’t able to post links to news articles or view the Facebook pages of any news outlets worldwide.

The move that has essentially blocked Australia from being in the loop, comes after its government proposed laws that would make social media outlets pay for news content to be shared onto their sites. But Facebook’s retaliation efforts also created chaos as fire, meteorological and health services nationwide began to experience problems with their pages, even during several public emergencies.

In response to the angry backlash, a Facebook spokesperson said official government pages shouldn’t have been affected by the announcement this morning, and that the company would fix any pages that were inadvertently impacted.

Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson, however, is concerned as she says the block has also impacted Indigenous community pages, charities, and even Facebook’s own page. Pearson described the move as an “alarming and dangerous turn of events.”

“Facebook is severely restricting and censoring the flow of information to Australians. Cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dead of the night is unconscionable.”

Despite being unable to access news organisations’ pages on the site, misinformation pages and fact-checking pages are still within reach, prompting many to call into question the role that journalists play in news gathering. The big question that critics have is how media organisations that employ qualified journalists, who go through a fact-checking process, are being blocked from the site, yet misinformation campaign pages and well-known conspiracy pages are allowed to be displayed.

Facebook’s manager for Australia and New Zealand, William Easton, says the proposed law, however, “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content.”

Easton says Facebook could either try to comply with a law that ignores the reality of such a relationship, or stop allowing news content on its services in Australia.

“With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”

Easton says the numbers don’t add up and favor news publishers heavily as they reap hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue by having Facebook disseminate their stories. He points to the proposed law as penalizing the social media platform for content that it “did not take or ask for.”

On the contrary, Australia’s watchdog for competition has revealed consistently that the breakdown for every $100 spent on online advertising deprives media outlets of revenue that is needed to support journalism. Google captures $53 of the $100, while Facebook captures $28. The rest is divided amongst others.

Australia isn’t alone in the push to even out the playing field, as other countries are mulling such moves to make tech platforms share revenues with news media outlets. But the choice to block the news before a decision is made by the courts could set a dangerous precedent.

The legislation put forth by the Australian government has already passed the House of Representatives in recent days, and is now on its way to being considered by the Senate.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Thailand

Thai and Chinese officials come together for Chinese New Year

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Thai and Chinese officials come together for Chinese New Year | The Thaiger

Thai and Chinese officials are coming together to celebrate the Chinese New Year by marking 46 years of diplomatic relations with each other. The ceremony in Bangkok was led by Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports and China’s Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China to Thailand.

The ceremony also included other high-ranking government officials who took part in celebrating the “Year of the Ox” while wishing happiness, health and prosperity for both countries. Thailand has been organising such Chinese New Year festivities, however, this year their anniversary of diplomatic relations fell on the new year holiday.

However, this year, Covid-19 has shown its face once again as the impact of the virus has been apparent in normally vibrant tourist areas like Phuket. Now, Phuketis noticeably quieter with much less decorations adorning the streets and visitors to the Chinese temples.

Many Thai-Chinese residents blamed the financial burden that the Covid pandemic brought on for not allowing them to travel back home to celebrate the holiday with their families. A noticeable decrease in red attire was also attributed to people not wanting to spend money on the customary and auspicious red clothing. Phuket officials say even domestic tourism was down from last year as their hopes of seeing a boost from such tourism over the holiday was dashed.

Meanwhile, China has caused waves internationally as its government has yanked the BBC World Newsfrom airing after an investigative story revealed alleged harsh treatment, including torture of China’s Muslim Uighur minority groups in camps. China responded to the move, which was heavily criticised by the international community, by saying the story and witness accounts were false. The government says the BBC violated reporting guidelines which included minimising harm to the country.

China also responded to placing such minorities in camps by saying they were in vocational training centres, a statement that the US, Britain and Australian governments refute.

SOURCE: The Pattaya News

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