Late yesterday (Sept 19), 20 dead bodies of passengers aboard the tourist boat when it overturned had been found, retrieved and identified.
The Marine Department said about 12 people were still missing. Ayutthaya Governor Prayoon Ratanaseree said about 50 people were injured in the accident.
More dead bodies of victims, including those of an eight-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl, were found yesterday and retrieved two to five kilometres from where the double-decker boat capsized and sank, said officials familiar with the search operation. As of late yesterday, the death toll was 20, but not including those missing.
The boat was a part of a procession carrying Muslim pilgrims on their way back from a mosque in Ayutthaya to Nonthaburi, said Nat Chubchai, deputy director-general of the Marine Department.
The driver unsuccessfully tried to pass a sand barge and lost control of the boat, resulting in its capsizing and sinking in the Chao Phraya River near Wat Sanam Chai pier, said Mr Nat.
Maj Gen Suthi Phungphikul, chief of the Ayutthaya Police, said after being questioned over Sunday’s incident, that Wirach Chaisirikul, the 67-year-old steering the boat, was charged with recklessness causing people’s deaths, overloading the boat beyond its capacity and sailing the boat without a valid licence.
Mr Wirach, who denied steering the boat recklessly, said that as he prepared to overtake the sand barge, the boat lost balance and capsized, adding that the vessel was overloaded with passengers.
Thanayuth Tingthong, a six-year-old boy who survived Sunday’s accident after some bystanders helped lift him and his mother from the water as the boat sank, told reporters they were on the upper deck when the boat tipped over.
The boy’s aunt, who was identified only by her first name of Malee, and who was not on the boat, said the mother has since attended a funeral in which some of Sunday’s victims were buried.
Ms Malee said she was told by some relatives who had survived the incident that the boat was travelling at high speed in torrential rain as it was trying to overtake the sand barge.
The boat was then hit by a wave, tipped over and crashed into something that produced a loud noise before sloping to one side and sinking in about one minute, according to Ms Malee.
The operation to salvage the boat is expected to be completed by tomorrow (Sept 21), said Mr Nat.
“A similar incident happened nine years ago involving a group Muslim pilgrims. But luckily then, no one was killed because the boat sank in a shallow river,” he said.
“So, after this incident, [Marine Department] authorities will issue an announcement requiring the organisers of such journeys to request navigation assistance from proper officials,” he said.
Marine Department authorities have stressed to boat drivers in the past the importance of strictly following safety precautions, and paying attention to maximum loads and speed, he said.
However, many boat drivers simply ignore these safety regulations, and most passengers do not pay sufficient attention to the practice of boat-travel safety, Mr Nat said.
The department does not have a enough of staff to be deployed to ensure boat transport safety in all areas, he said.
Department director-general Sorasak Saensombat said the department is considering issuing a new regulation to require passenger boats with 25 seats or more to install Automatic Identification Systems so that boat drivers’ behaviour can be fully monitored.
This new regulation will apply to passenger boats operating on the Chao Phraya River and Gulf of Thailand routes, he said.
The compulsory insurance policy of the boat’s owner had expired on March 10 and had not been renewed, said Suthiphon Thaveechaiyagarn, secretary-general of the Office of Insurance Commission.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed the Interior Ministry to consider providing financial assistance to the families of the victims as permitted under the ministry’s regulations, said government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd.
Gen Prayut also told authorities to suspend the operations of the company that owns the boat until it can prove whether Sunday’s incident was an accident or caused by negligence, said Maj Gen Sansern.
The prime minister expressed his condolences to the families who lost loved ones.
The National Council for Peace and Order, meanwhile, ordered all agencies concerned to step up measures to prevent boat transport accidents.
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