At least 40 people have been found dead and dozens are still missing after two boats carrying tourists capsized in rough seas off the Thai holiday island of Phuket, the government said on Friday.
The Thai Prime Minister's Office offered condolences to the families of the victims, saying that the Royal Thai government "will exert all efforts to find those still missing and provide support to all survivors of this tragic event".
One of the vessels- the Phoenix PC Diving ship was carrying 105 passengers, including Thai crew members, tourist guides and 93 tourists, many of them Chinese holidaymakers. It went down in bad weather on Thursday, the BBC reported.
The Chinese Embassy in Thailand said that 16 Chinese were killed, 78 were rescued and 33 tourists were still missing in the accidents.
The vessels went out despite a severe weather warning, which was still in place for much of the country's southern coast on Friday, according to the Thailand Meteorological Department.
Divers had made four underwater searches before the weather conditions made it too dangerous, the BBC reported. They will resume the search on Saturday.
According to reports, another 39 people were saved when the second boat, carrying mostly European passengers, overturned at about the same time. An investigation was ordered into why the boats went out despite severe weather warnings.
Thailand is bracing for the arrival of the monsoon season, which will bring heavy rain and storms to the area.
Meanwhile, Thai authorities on Friday evening suspended the search for missing tourists who were on a boat that sank during the storm. Most of the people who died during the incident are Chinese nationals.
The search for another 23 people still missing will resume at 5 a.m. 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 totaled 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 5-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.
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.
Chinese Ambassador Lyu Jian had an “emergency conversation” by phone with Thai Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, the Chinese Embassy said in a statement quoting the envoy calling on Thailand to quickly mobilize an intensive search for the missing and “to tend and make appropriate arrangements for the rescued Chinese tourists, treat and cure the injured and receive family members of the Chinese tourists involved.”
Ambassador Lyu said it hoped the cause of the capsizing would be quickly ascertained and asked Somkid to have the relevant Thai agencies closely cooperate with China on the matter.