Although it has already been confirmed that other boats also built in Phuket have the same design as the Phoenix, Mr Wiwat yesterday assured that no boats with illegal ‘substandard’ designs were still operating among the Phuket tour boat fleet.
Mr Wiwat’s reaction followed Immigration Bureau chief Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn on Monday (Dec 17) publicly revealing that the Phoenix was substandard and illegally approved, and that officials and others connected with the July 5 tragedy will lose their jobs.
“Chinese and German specialists agree that the boat was substandard… It was not built at a shipyard but at a machine shop. Police have laid down charges during the interrogation process. Phuket marine officials were prosecuted for dereliction of duty,” he said. (See story here.)
Gen Surachate, who previously served as Deputy Commander of the national Tourist Police, has been tasked with leading the investigation into the Phoenix tragedy, along with Royal Thai Police Deputy Commander Lt Gen Rungroj Sangkram. (See story here.)
Mr Wiwat yesterday assured,“All designs of boats (in operation in Thailand) are approved by the Ship Standard Registration Bureau of the Marine Department. The same applies for all designs, including the design for the Phoenix.
“We inspected more than 1,000 boats operating from ports (and piers) in Phuket after the July 5 disaster. We found some boats did not match their designs, and their owners were ordered to have them corrected. They have been taken out of service until they have undergone reworking at shipyards,” he said.
“Marine Department officials from (the Ship Standard Registration Bureau) in Bangkok will come to check the boats again to make sure they meet safety standards. If they pass, they will be approved for use by the Marine Department officials from Bangkok and the Phuket Marine Office,” he added.
Mr Wiwat declined to specify how many boats had been ordered to be rectified or which shipyards were carrying out the “redesigns”. He just said, “In Phuket province.”
“There are no illegal boats in Phuket for which the owners will be charged. I have ordered them to have the boats fixed already. Currently, there are no boats (in operation) that do not meet the standards required,” Mr Wiwat repeated.
Mr Wiwat declined to confirm or deny whether any officials at the Phuket Marine Office were involved in approving the Phoenix to put to sea with tourists on board.
“Some Marine Department officials who are concerned with the Phoenix boat are being questioned by investigators. I don’t know any more details,” he said.
“The investigation of the Phoenix disaster is being carried out by the Royal Thai Police, as Gen Surachate Hakparn revealed to the press (on Monday). I don’t disagree with what he said, but I am waiting for official confirmation by documents, not just words,” Mr Wiwat added.
Of note, Mr Wiwat was not the Chief of the Phuket Marine Office at the time of the Phoenix disaster on July 5. He was installed as the Acting Director from his post as the Chief of the Ayutthaya Marine Office, a position he still officially retains.
The Phuket Marine Chief on July 5 was Surat Sirisaiyat, who was transferred immediately after the disaster to the post of Acting Chief of the Ayutthaya Marine Office, where he is expected to remain while the investigation continues.
Mr Surat was last in Phuket on Nov 18 to be present in person for the official handover of the Phoenix wreck to police investigators when the boat was pulled up onto stands on the hardstand at the Ratanachai shipyard on the east side of Phuket Town.
“Now this is done my responsibility with this boat has concluded as it is no longer in the water,” Mr Surat told The Phuket News that afternoon in a brief conversation by phone.
“I have officially transferred responsibility of the boat over to the Royal Thai Police investigation team. Now it is their job to investigate the Phoenix further,” he said.
Mr Surat declined to comment further about the Phoenix, which was operating tours for Chinese tourists while he was the Phuket Marine Chief.
“I have done my job already. I have no comment about the Phoenix. Now, I am on the way back to the Ayutthaya Marine Office,” he said before the conversation was terminated.