Ferry death toll rises to nine

KOH YAO: Nine people drowned when the overloaded passenger ferry Rungroj capsized and sank in heavy seas off Naka Island Saturday afternoon. One person is still missing.

Of the nine dead, five were children and three others were women.

The 13-meter vessel had left Bang Rong pier in Thalang District and was bound for Koh Yao Noi at about 3 pm when it was pummeled by waves whipped up in Saturday afternoon’s sudden rains and heavy winds.

An official at Koh Yao Hospital told the Gazette that the confirmed death toll reached nine when rescue workers this morning pulled the body of 14-year-old schoolgirl Tiparat Pinyo from the sea.

Phuket Police helicopters and vessels from the Marine Police, Customs Department and Navy as well as local fishing boats, which were first on the scene, all took part in the rescue effort.

Of the survivors, 56 of the 63 who received treatment at Koh Yao Hospital have already been released. Eleven people with serious injuries were transferred to Wachira Phuket Hospital.

A Marine Police unit salvaged the ferry yesterday. Although licensed to carry just 22 people, it was overloaded with about 70 passengers, along with 10 motorcycles and other cargo.

Koh Yao Police Station Superintendent Pol Col Weerasin Khwanseng said yesterday that ferry captain and owner Dol Rerngsumthorn had contacted the police to arrange his surrender and will face charges of reckless conduct leading to death and injury

Phuket Marine Police Inspector Pol Maj Prasert Srikunnarat told the Gazette that while some passengers were wearing life jackets, others were not.

One of the Rungroj survivors, 34-year-old Koh Yao resident Chanida Romin, told the Gazette from her hospital bed at Wachira Phuket Hospital, “It happened at around 3 pm. There were strong winds and heavy rain. I had come over to Phuket and was on my way back home.

“The captain told us not to panic. He also warned us not to all go to the same side of the boat, otherwise it could capsize. Then a woman said that we had to abandon ship, because the boat was filling up with water, but nobody believed her.

“However, after that, the captain himself was the first person to jump into the water. The crew told us to jump though the windows into the sea. By then the water was up to our knees. It was complete chaos as everybody struggled for life jackets [because there were not enough].

“Everyone managed to get off, but not everybody had a life jacket. I had one, and found myself in the water with two other people. One of them also had a life jacket but the other didn’t. The two of us could only watch as she was pulled under by a large wave. She drowned right in front of our eyes.

“We floated out there for about an hour, and I prayed to God the entire time to rescue us. Eventually we were rescued by a long-tail boat. Last night, I was up all night vomiting up sea water.

“I hope all the relevant government agencies will take action to prevent something like this from ever happening again,” she added.

The Rungroj capsizing was not the only emergency situation on Saturday afternoon.

Col Weerasin told the Gazette that the Phuket Marine Police also received a distress call from Koh Pai.

“That night, while we were working hard to search for survivors, we received a report that 70 tourists were stranded on Koh Pai. Their ferry was unable to return them to Phuket because of the storm.

“We sent a Marine Police boat to the island and were able to get them all back to Phuket safely,” he said, adding that the stranded tourists included both Thais and foreigners.

Phuket News
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