Around 100 tourists – mostly foreigners but including 11 Thais – were rescued last night (May 28) from the stricken vessel.
The ferry, the Peuan Foong 2, set off shortly before 4pm from Phi Phi, heading for Rassada Pier in Phuket.
Not long after, it began to take on water through a crack in the hull, and 54-year-old Captain Sommai Sanguansap headed for the nearest piece of land, tiny Koh Kiew (Green Island), where he managed to put the bow of the ferry on the rocks.
The marine police went to the scene as did another ferry, the Phichamon, which diverted to pick up the passengers, none of whom were harmed.
Phuriphat Theerakulpisut, director of the Marine Office – which has official responsibility for the safety of passenger boats – told The Phuket News today (May 29), “This accident was caused by nature.
“I was very impressed with the captain [of the Peuan Foong 2]. He was able to deal with an emergency with experience and skill, by stopping at Koh Kiew.”
Preparations were being made to recover the ferry, he said. “The owner has been in touch with me and he is concerned.
“They want a barge to carry 80 air tanks to the site – that may take some time to arrange. The tanks will be strapped to the ferry to stop it sinking so that they can repair the hull.”
He explained that the Marine Office has a process for checking every passenger boat and ferry once a year. “If a ferry is broken in any way, the officers will consider matters case by case.
“International levels of safety are our top priority; we want to ensure that passengers are safe and that none are harmed.”
Peecha Chuleam, 39, the captain of the Phichamon, told The Phuket News, “I was already carrying 60 passengers. The weather was not too bad; wave heights were about two metres.
“When we arrived I could see all the passengers [on the Peuan Foong 2] were already wearing buoyancy aids. Some looked frightened. I came up alongside and we took about 20 minutes transferring them.
“I went on to Phi Phi and dropped my 60 passengers first and then went back to Rassada Pier [with the Peuan Foong 2’s passengers]. We arrived around 7.20pm.” No one was injured.
Mr Peecha said he had been sailing these waters for 14 years and conditions were not extreme, or even particularly dangerous. “We were still running our service.”
He theorised that the Peuan Foong 2 might have been hit by a particularly large wave that had cracked the hull.
This is the third incident in six weeks in which tourists have been put at risk in waters close to Phuket.
On April 16, the dive boat Little Princess sank in heavy weather while trying to reach Koh Tachai, between the Similan and Surin Islands. Twenty people left floating in the water were rescued by a fishing boat.
The Royal Thai Navy had to be sent to rescue the 20 along with hundreds of other stranded on the island because the boats that brought them there could not venture out into the large waves.
Last Saturday, despite warnings of bad weather, many boats were damaged off Krabi and 170 tourists had to be picked up from Koh Hong when the skippers of longtail boats decided conditions were not safe for the return trip.