Rough seas, strong currents frustrate Thailand’s efforts to raise sunken tour boat

World Today

Another frustrating day in Thailand as salvage operators try to raise a sunken tour boat. Nearly 50 tourists died when the “Phoenix” sank off the coast of Phuket last July. Officials were hoping to raise the boat, using a giant crane from Singapore. But rough seas and strong currents are proving to be more than a match for the equipment.

CGTN’s Tony Cheng has more.

From the air, the waters off the southern tip of Phuket look calm and placid. There’s very little traffic,  as these busy waterways have been cleared for the raising of the Phoenix. A giant Singaporean crane lumbered into place, but the rapid lift promised by Thai authorities never materialized.

The salvage crane was slowly getting into position Thursday morning, but the salvage team had said they hoped to raise the boat by 8 a.m., a deadline they were clearly not going to meet. The seas were considerably more choppy than on Wednesday, although for a crane of this size, that shouldn’t make a significant difference.

The Phoenix disaster has had a dramatic impact on tourism, however. At the Governor’s Mansion, members of the island’s civilian administration and security services assembled to discuss new safety measures across the island–not just on the high seas–to make tourists, particularly those from China, feel safe. For the chief administrator in the area, a sharp fall in arrivals from China is a very big problem on an island whose revenue is solely derived from tourism.

“After the Phoenix incident in July, from the information we’ve gathered, we’ve found that tourist numbers from China are decreasing,” said Phuket Governor Pakkhapong Tawiwat.

On the island’s famous Patong beach, the Chinese flag was flying high, but looking faded and torn. Certainly, there were far fewer Chinese visitors than there have been in recent years, when China delivered the largest number of arrivals to Thailand. But these tourists haven’t been deterred.

“I don’t feel any danger,” said one man. “I try to avoid any dangerous activities at sea.”

“I haven’t felt any danger yet because the hotel is very close and the surrounding environment is ok,” said a woman visitor.

Thailand’s tourist industry has weathered many storms, but Chinese visitor numbers had been rising despite the problems. If they now turn away because of the mishandling of the Phoenix disaster, the impact will be profound.