PHUKET: Surin Tirakulpisut, Head of the Phuket Marine Office, defended his agency in the face of scathing criticism, both in the media and by Government officials, after the disastrous sinking of the ferry Rungroj last Saturday.
The last victim of the Rungroj was pulled from the sea yesterday evening, bringing the final death toll to 10.
The victim was identified as Jureerat Matchakul, 20, a student at Phuket Rajabhat University. Her body was discovered offshore by local villagers at about 6 pm, not far from where the the 13-meter boat capsized and sank last Saturday in heavy seas between Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai.
Following a Cabinet meeting yesterday, Government Spokesman Jakrapob Penkair wondered aloud how a vessel licensed to carry just 22 people could have ever been allowed to depart from Bang Rong Pier in Thalang with 75 passengers aboard.
K. Surin told the Gazette today that the Phuket Marine Office had just eight officers, allowing only random inspections at piers about 10 days a month.
He added that following the tragedy he had requested more officers to conduct inspections at piers commonly used by tourists, such as at Ao Chalong, Bang Rong and Ao Por.
He also lashed out at the media for inaccurate reporting. “In fact, the total number of passengers that day was 53, with just two motorcycles. It was not 75 people with 10 motorcycles, as some in the media have reported,” he said.
(Jantira Pikulphol, Head Nurse at Koh Yao Hospital, confirmed to the Gazette this afternoon that hospital records showed 62 passengers from the Rungroj were treated at the facility and that the bodies of 10 victims were sent there, indicating that no fewer than 72 people were on board.)
K. Surin reiterated that his staff had done the best they could with the resources available.
“It’s always difficult after an accident like this, but I would like to confirm that in the past we always carried out inspections. We also put up signs at each pier warning ferry operators not to overload their vessels and to make sure all passengers wear life jackets.
“But we simply don’t have the manpower to check every vessel every time,” he said.
He went on to explain that first-time violators for overloading were fined 10,000 baht, second-time violators 20,000 baht and third-time violators had their licenses revoked.
Clearly frustrated at the intransigence of ferry operators, he told the Gazette that just days after the Rungroj disaster he had had to fine another vessel for overcrowding.
“This just shows how difficult it is to change the habits of local citizens when it comes to safety issues,” he said.
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