Thais search for missing as 15 die in pilgrim boat accident

BANGKOK, Sept 19 — The search for several missing passengers continued today after a boat carrying Muslim pilgrims sank on Thailand’s Chao Phraya river leaving at least 15 people dead, a provincial governor said.

The accident happened yesterday afternoon near the ancient city of Ayutthaya, a popular tourist attraction, when a boat packed with pilgrims returning from a mosque hit a concrete bank in strong tides.

“The death toll is now confirmed at 15, with 11 people still missing,” Ayutthaya deputy governor Rewat Prasong told AFP, updating the overnight toll from 13 dead.

“Fourteen people are still in hospital,” he said, adding “the rescue operation resumed this morning to find those missing.”

No foreigners were believed to be among the dead.

Local television stations showed graphic footage of the aftermath of the accident as passengers were pulled from the water while rescuers attempted to resuscitate stricken people on the bank.

Passengers were trapped on the lower deck of the pleasure boat, which was submerged in the swollen, brown waters agonisingly close to the bank.

Despite its wealth compared to regional neighbours and huge tourism sector, accidents are common on Thailand’s public transport network.

Safety regulations are often weakly enforced, including on boats with overcrowding, sinkings and crashes common — in particular in busy tourist areas.

The Chao Phraya, the main river that flows through Bangkok, is a key commuting artery, filled with often packed boats plying the waterways at breakneck speed.

It runs through Ayutthaya, the ancient Thai capital whose riverside is studded with the remains of Buddhist temples.

Thailand’s reputation as the “Land of Smiles” has suffered in recent years amid frequent deadly bus and boat accidents, crimes against foreigners and political unrest.

But visitors keep coming. — AFP