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33 Chinese dead in boat sinking off Thai island, 23 missing

Friday, July 06, 2018

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PHUKET, Thailand (AP) — Thai authorities on Friday evening suspended the search for missing tourists who were on a boat that sank during a storm off the southern resort island of Phuket, as the death toll rose to 33, all of them Chinese.

The search for another 23 people still missing will resume at 5:00 am Saturday, said Prapan Khanprasang, chief of the Phuket Provincial Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Office.

The accident appeared to be Thai tourism's biggest disaster in years, and drew sharp attention from the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok. Visitors to Thailand from China totalled more than 9.8 million people in 2017, constituting the largest share by country of a record 35.38 million foreign tourists in all.

The death toll jumped after the navy sent divers to enter the wreck of the tour boat, which capsized and sank Thursday evening when it was hit by five-meter (16-foot) -high waves. It was carrying 105 people, including 93 tourists, 11 crew and one tour guide. At least 12 of the injured were hospitalized.

In images Thursday after the sinking, rescued people sat in large rubber life rafts surrounded by churning seas. Wearing life jackets, the survivors were then moved to the deck of what appeared to be a fishing trawler.

As the seas calmed Friday, divers were transporting the bodies of the dead, including at least one child, from smaller boats to a larger ship taking part in the search effort.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of Thailand's military government, expressed his "sympathies and deepest condolences" to the families of the dead.

The government will "exert all efforts to find those still missing and provide support to all survivors of this tragic event," he said in a statement.

Reports in Thai media said police charged the owner and captain of the stricken ship with carelessness causing death and injury.

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