Preecha Jaiart, who bought the Phoenix wreck at auction from the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) in August last year, told The Phuket News that will conduct a merit-making ceremony later this week to honour those who died in the disaster, which also included the death of 37-year-old Thai diver Niphat ‘Joch’ Kludnak, who collapsed and died after surfacing from a dive to the wreck some 45 metres below the surface.
The death of Mr Niphat brought the total number of people who died as a result of the disaster to 48.
The wreck remains at Rattanachai Shipyard, Mr Preecha confirmed today in a brief conversation with The Phuket News.
He noted that no one had approached him to buy the wreck, but declined to answer further questions, explaining that he is spending time with his family this long weekend for the Asarnha Bucha and Khao Phansa Buddhist religious holidays.
Mr Preecha, who operates the Truck2hand.com website for selling secondhand heavy vehicles, including trucks, buses, vans and boats, bought the Phoenix wreck at auction from the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) for B905,000 with the aim of restoring the boat and sending it back to the bottom of the sea where it originally sank as an underwater memorial.
However, Mr Preecha soon encountered a wall of bureaucracy preventing him from doing so. He has yet to reveal what his current plans for the wreck entail.
The sinking of the Phoenix spelled disaster for Thailand’s tourism public image worldwide as images of bodies being recovered and Chinese tourists still in shock and grief spun around the globe on social media, far beyond the influence of the Thai authorities to control.
Bookings by Chinese tourists to travel to Thailand plunged by more than 20% in the month after the disaster. Cancellations in Phuket were much higher.
Following the disaster on July 5, 2018, raids led to the discovery that the operators of the boat had laundered more than B1 billion. This led to the seizure of operators’ assets, which were auctioned off by the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo).
Royal Thai Police Deputy Commander Gen Rungroj Sangkram, who was tasked with overseeing the investigation into the disaster, stood by his assurances that two officials at the Ship Standard Registration Bureau in Bangkok would face charges for their part in allowing the Phoenix to be approved to be put to sea.
However, Gen Rungroj declined to give details about any prosecutions conducted as a result of the police investigation.
The police investigation report was never made public.
“The police investigation into the Phoenix is completed. We did our job. Our job is done,” Gen Rungrote said last year.
Immediately following the disaster, the Phuket Marine Office Chief at the time, Surat Sirisaiyat, was transferred to the post of Acting Chief of the Ayutthaya Marine Office.
In turn, the Chief of the Ayutthaya Marine Office, Wiwat Chitchertwong, was transferred to Director of the Phuket Marine Office, where he remains today.