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All saved as ferry burns and sinks



All saved as ferry burns and sinks | Thaiger

PHUKET: Courageous ferry skippers who came alongside a burning tour boat today in Phang Nga Bay saved all 166 passengers and three crew. There were no injuries. The ferry, the 30-meter “Phuket Cruiser 2”, left Rassada Quay on the east side of Phuket Town for Phi Phi Island at 8 am. About an hour later, fire broke out in the engine room. The flames swiftly ran out of control, engulfing the vessel from stem to stern. Seeing the smoke, other boats rushed to the scene. First there was the “Koh Yao Queen”, followed by “Sea Breeze” and the “Phi Phi Cruiser”. All came alongside the burning boat and took on passengers. They were joined 20 minutes later by two vessels from the Marine Police and the Phuket Harbour Master’s Department. By then, all passengers and crew had been evacuated, so the two government boats began to fight the fire. They were too late. Flames had eaten through the wooden hull and the boat sank. Don Lornee, 44, the vessel’s skipper, and Kalim Kongbamroong, 47, the engineer, have been arrested and charged with “negligence leading to damage to the property of others”. Meanwhile, an investigation into the cause of the fire has been launched, said Pol Maj Narong Nateboot, Inspector of the Phuket Marine Police. “We’re looking at two possibilities. First is a short circuit in the engine room. The second is a leaky fuel hose. This, if it touched a hot exhaust pipe, might have led to the fire.” Pol Col Misakawan Buara, Superintendent of the Marine Police, said most of the passengers, though frightened by what had happened, decided to go on to Phi Phi Island. Ten opted to head back to Phuket, mostly because they had lost personal effects, cash and documents in the fire. The wooden Phuket Cruiser 2, which was licensed to carry as many as 215 passengers, was owned by Singh Phuket Co Ltd. The company has been operating passenger boats from Phuket for about five years. Aboard the vessel were 60 Chinese, 29 Swedes, 18 Britons, 14 Singaporeans, 10 French, nine Australians, nine Brazilians, five Thais, three Indians, three Malaysians, two Italians, two Spaniards and two Egyptians Phuket’s boat safety record has been under scrutiny in recent years as the result of a rash of accidents, particularly in 1998 when 25 lives were lost in two separate mishaps. In addition to the fatal accidents that year, a passenger cruiser ran aground with scores of tourists and sank. A few months later, on November 21, 95 passengers, mostly from Hong Kong, were forced to abandon a tour boat when it started taking on water and capsized, bottom up. As was the case again today, both vessels were en route to Phi Phi, and both narrowly escaped passenger deaths when nearby vessels came to the rescue.


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