Yesterday, according to all sources and even presented to the public by Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong and Tourism & Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat – in the presence of Chinese Ambassador Lyu – that number stood at 14.
Speaking at the Phuket Provincial Police headquarters in Phuket Town this morning, Gen Srivara said that only 89 “people” were on board the Phoenix when it sank.
That number alone flies in the face of all reports by officials since the Phoenix sank amid a storm squall off Koh Hei (Coral Island) last Thursday (July 5).
Every agency consistently reported 105 people being on board, with 12 being crewman or otherwise engaged as working on the boat, including the captain. All 12 of the captain and crew were safely rescued, leaving the rescue teams working on the presumption that 93 tourists were on board when the boat sank.
However, Gen Srivara this morning said officials were now working on identifying and locating five Chinese tourists who apparently were not on board the boat when it sank.
“Forty-two people (23 males and 19 females) were rescued, 41 people died and five people remain still being searched for. One dead body has been found under the boat and can’t be brought up,” he said.
However, added that all aspects of the disaster must be investigated thoroughly.
“The investigation must be completed rapidly, especially concerning the five tourists that didn’t join the trip, to know who they were,” he said, presumably also wanting to know where they are.
“Those tourists must be confirmed by the Embassy of China,” Gen Srivara said.
Gen Srivara gave no explanation or why it has taken five days for officials to learn that five of the tourists were not on board, or why officials did not even know how many people were on the boat – or even were supposed to be on the boat.
Also, after a morning of “copy-and-paste journalism”, The Phuket News has yet to see an independent report or learn of any statement from Chinese officials that this is accurate.
Worse, two of the people apparently missing are now being reported as “European”, whether they are included in the “89” remains unclear.
Gen Srivara also gave no explanation of whether these two people were tourists or not.
He did not even identify which country they came from.
Independent reports by international media in the immediate aftermath of the disaster last Thursday said that two Russians, a man and a woman, were on board the Phoenix when it sank.
Meanwhile, the Public Relations Department Region 5 office reported earlier today that the search for any bodies or survivors had been suspended due to the storm conditions that hit the area this morning.
Regardless, the reliable Bangkok Post reported that the search had resumed. If the search has indeed resumed, Gen Srivara this morning gave no indication of what exactly the search teams are to look for as the new figures presented leave no people unaccounted for in the water.
It is possible that the search teams have been ordered to continue searching for the five just in case the information is not accurate.
As of this afternoon, the Bangkok Post reported that 10 people were still missing and that Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong said authorities are trying to verify their details and some of them may have left Thailand.
Gov Norraphat said the development came after new information emerged from Thai immigration and the Chinese Embassy. (See story here.)
Gen Srivara did say, “The boats must be clear about where and how they were registered. The numbers of missing and dead people also must be clear because of legal consequence.”
The “boats” reference includes the sinking of the motoryacht Serenata, which sank off Koh Mai Thon in the same storm last Thursday. All 41 people were safely recovered from that disaster.
“One source claims that the Serenita was a foreign boat (sic) that had applied for a tourism licence. This issue needs to be checked clearly, especially as plans of the boat must be submitted for its registration. The staff will need to review this information in depth,” Gen srivara said.
The sinking of the Phoenix remains one of the worst maritime disasters in Thailand's modern history, and at this stage appears to be the worst single vessel disaster since 1932. (See list of disasters in Thailand here.)