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Chinese President Xi Jinping has called on Thailand to ramp up safety for tourists in the wake of the tour boat disaster off Phuket that has claimed at least 33 lives.
The message was delivered by Thailand Tourism & Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat in person at the disaster operations command centre set up at the Phuket Marine Office at Chalong Pier last night (July 6), in the presence of Chinese Ambassador to Thailand Lyu Jian, who had travelled to Phuket to oversee international relations over the incident.
Minister Weerasak explained that Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha had also called on all people involved in any aspect in response to disaster to do their best.
“We will work with police to make sure the tour company is held responsible for any wrong doing leading to the disaster,” Mr Weerasak added.
The Tourism Minister explained that Chinese President Xi Jinping had responded to the incident and had urged Thailand to recover all victims and to do their best in resolving the incident, and thanked the Thai people for their efforts
“He said he hopes that in the future Thailand will have more laws and regulations to give the tourists more safety than this – as well as transport on land, in the air and on the water… everywhere,” he said.
“They hope that in the future we (Thailand and China) will meet and work together to improve the quality of the tourism in Thailand – and care more about the safety and quality of the tours provided, not just focus on the number of tourists,” Mr Weerasak added.
Ambassador Lyu noted, “This incident has shocked the Chinese government very much, and caused much loss. The news has been reported a lot in the Thai and Chinese media.
“The President of China, Xi Jinping, mentioned this case through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Consulate, asking to resolve the incident and to find the missing persons as soon as possible.
“The Prime Minister of China (Li Keqiang) also stressed that urgent steps be taken to care for the family and friends of victims so they can travel to Thailand,” he added.
Mr Weerasak explained that efforts were underway to provide support for family members now arriving to support the victims still living, and to identify their loved ones and reclaim their bodies.
The Phuket Passport Office and Thai Airways International will be instrumental in providing that support, it was explained.
“We are also now co-operating with phone networks to allow all people directly affected by the disaster to communicate with friends and family members back home for free,” he said, noting that the first families from China were to land in Phuket last night to identify dead family members.
Mr Weerasak recognised the difficulties hospitals were having in gaining the services of people proficient enough in Thai and Chinese to act as translators.
“We are co-operating with the TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) for more translators*,” he said.
Mr Weerasak stressed it was critical to provide the best care possible for all tourists affected by the disaster.
He confirmed that the official tally at the time he was speaking, about 8pm last night, was 33 dead and 23 missing.
At a meeting at the disaster command centre earlier yesterday, deputy national police chiefs Gen Chalermkiat Sriworakan and Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul vowed to hold the captain of the stricken boat Phoenix, Somjing Boontham, and the tour company, T.C. Blue Dream Co Ltd, responsible for the calamity.
The Phoenix, had 105 people, including tourists and crew members, on board when it sank close to Koh Hei at around 4pm on Thursday. (See story here.)
Both Gen Chalermkiat and Gen Srivara explained that Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon had publicly apologised for the incident.
Police will investigate why the boat went to sea despite a weather warning of strong wind, they said, adding that they were “sure we will have enough evidence to hold the boat captain and the tour company responsible”.
Details of recovering the remaining bodies and the salvage of the Phoenix were yet to be finalised, but were to be arranged “soon”, it was explained.