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Phuket’s killer boat Phoenix ripped apart for scrap metal

Tim Newton

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Phuket’s killer boat Phoenix ripped apart for scrap metal | The Thaiger
PHOTO: 'Phoenix', today being taken apart to be sold off as scrap metal - Stephen Crone
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OPINION

A very sorry sight today as an infamous relic of Thailand’s worst maritime disaster ends up being ripped apart and sold for scrap. Thai authorities will be glad to see the ghosts of ‘Phoenix’ gone once and for all.

On July 5, 2018, two tour boats capsized off the south west coast of Phuket, during a sudden storm. 46 people died and 3 were missing, never to be recovered. They had all headed out for a fun day of diving off the Phoenix PC Diving, which carried 101 people, including 89 tourists. All but 2 of the guests were Chinese nationals. 42 passengers aboard a second boat that sank, Serenita, also in the same are, were rescued.

The wreck of Phoenix was eventually salvaged and taken to the Rattanachai Shipyard on the east coast of Phuket Town. Alone and forgotten, it sat as a reminder of a litany of mistakes and the eventual calamity that ended up in the death of the 49 people. It’s also a sad reminder that every one of the Thai crew, including the captain, survived and made it into the life rafts, abandoning most of the Chinese passengers, many who were stuck downstairs when the boat capsized.

To this day there has been no official inquest or proper state investigation into the disaster, mostly caused by neglect from Thai authorities in ensuring that the Chinese-owned vessel was fit for purpose. It wasn’t. Phoenix was a poor copy of a similar boat design but had been ballasted incorrectly, not fitted with proper marine-grade equipment or windows, was carrying more people than permitted on the day and had somehow been able to acquire all the safety paperwork whilst clearly being poorly designed, built and equipped.

That the boat was at sea amid a savage westerly weather front, was never properly addressed. Even The Thaiger, monitoring the TMD weather radar from time to time, did 2 posts on the afternoon of the storm warning people about the impending weather front.

Even the ‘life jackets’ on board Phoenix were simply the bouyancy vests that many of the passengers would use when they went swimming during their trips. They certainly weren’t designed to support non-swimmers bobbing about in amongst 3 metre waves. Many of the drowned victims, including 16 children, were found dead, face-down, the next day scattered around the area. A proper life jacket would have forced the people in the water, even non-swimmers, onto their back.

WEARING THE RIGHT JACKET COULD SAVE YOUR LIFELast Friday many deceased Chinese tourists were found floating, face down, in the wake of Thursday evening's disaster. Bouyancy vests, life jackets, bouyancy aids – what's the difference? Tim gets into a pool to demonstrate how wearing the right 'vest' could save your life.

Posted by The Thaiger on Monday, July 9, 2018

Thai authorities famously apportioned a lot of the blame at the time to the Chinese “owners” (again, a Thai lawyer had set up an illegal Thai shelf company for the boat to conduct its business, including a Thai nominee director), with the Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan at the time saying that “it was a matter of Chinese killing their own”. The Thai captain and the Thai crew have never gone to court or had to face any charges. The Thai builders of the boat or the Thai marine officials that ticked-off on all the paperwork, without ever actually checking the boat, also never faced prosecution.

Royal Thai Police Deputy Commander Gen Rungroj Sangkram, tasked with overseeing the investigation into the Phoenix disaster, assured the public that 2 officials at the Ship Standard Registration Bureau in Bangkok would face charges for their part in allowing the Phoenix to be approved and put to sea. They too have so far avoided prosecution.

And the police investigation report was never made public.

But today, at the Rattanachai Shipyard in Ratsada, the boat is now being pulled apart to be sold as scrap. The Thai government, who impounded the vessel, tried to auction it off for year, without success. It was eventually auctioned off last year to Preecha Jaiart and the new owner said he was going to re-fit the vessel for another life as a dive boat. But that never eventuated and now Phoenix will never again go to sea but will remain a painful memory for the families of the dead and a dark stain on Thailand’s marine bureaucracy.

The legacy of the sinking of Phoenix was mostly felt in the immediate 12 months following the incident with a big drop in Chinese tourism, by far the biggest feeder market for the island’s critical tourist industry. In fact the number of Chinese tourists visiting Phuket never again reached the sorts of numbers coming to the island before the sinking.

Phuket's killer boat Phoenix ripped apart for scrap metal | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Phoenix in its heyday as a dive boat serving Phuket’s popular day-trip industry

Phuket's killer boat Phoenix ripped apart for scrap metal | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: In the middle of being pulled apart for scrap – Stephen Crone

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Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for nearly 40 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program, presented 3,900 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 450 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and is now the General Manager and writer for The Thaiger. He's reported for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue.

1 Comment

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  1. Avatar

    Toby Andrews

    July 30, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    Not one person prosecuted. A corrupt investigation then, if they claim nobody is to blame.
    Add to the guilty the police for not prosecuting. Were they paid off?

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