BANGKOK • A Thai government minister yesterday blamed Chinese tour operators for the deaths of more than 40 people, most of them tourists from China, in a boat accident off a resort island last weekend, as divers searched for 11 people still missing.
The boat, the Phoenix, went down in high seas last Thursday off the west coast island of Phuket with 101 people on board – 89 tourists, all but two of them from China, and 12 crew members – during an outing to a small island for snorkelling.
The rainy season now under way can bring fierce squalls and high seas in southern Thailand, especially off its west coast, and questions have been raised about why the boat had set out to sea despite warnings of bad weather.
China‘s Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued an urgent circular last Saturday, stressing the importance of researching online travel companies when booking overseas trips. Many of those on board the Phoenix had booked travel independently via online tour operators, the ministry said.
Earlier, the authorities said the boat was carrying 105 people. They later revised the figure saying that some of those booked did not join the outing.
“Officially, 11 people are still missing,” Phuket provincial governor Noraphat Plodthong told a news conference yesterday. “We will continue the search today.”
Tourism accounts for about 12 per cent of gross domestic product in South-east Asia‘s second-largest economy, making it one of the most important drivers of growth, and such disasters inevitably raise questions about damage to the industry.