Rescued tourist slams Phuket boating safety

Australian survivor is joined by experts in questioning why speedboat risked weather

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2012, 2:55am

An Australian who survived the sinking of a tour boat off the Thai holiday island of Phi Phi this week has told of his family's lucky escape and criticised the condition of the vessel.

As the speedboat sank in stormy seas on Monday, Hakan Ergun, 38, clung to his daughter Sena, 2, and feared they were both going to die. His wife, Zuhal, 33, and elder daughter, Beyza, 8, were also flung into the water.

"I had to kick myself free as the boat went down,'' he said. "I thought it was the end. My daughter and I actually went under the water but luckily we surfaced.''

In all, 37 passengers, mainly Chinese tourists, were on the day trip from Phuket, along with a Thai guide and three crew. All survived the ordeal.

Ergun, from Sydney, slammed the safety conditions of the vessel and the preparedness of the crew.

"The boat and the crew were hopeless," he said. "The lifejackets weren't really life jackets at all. There were buckles missing and it was a miracle everyone stayed afloat.

"The captain and the crew, they had no idea whatsoever. It was every man for himself."

Others aboard the boat included tourists from South Korea, New Zealand, Kuwait and Britain.

The near tragedy is likely to focus attention on lax safety of tourist boats on Phuket, which are allowed to go to sea even on days such as Monday when it was far too dangerous.

Ergun said: "We were clearly in trouble and everybody was terrified. There was no GPS, no radio."

He estimated that passengers spent 15 minutes in the water before being rescued by a boat.

A spokesman for the Chao Fa Krabi Rescue Centre said: "I am very surprised that any kind of small boat was on the water in this weather.''

Weather warnings were issued on Monday advising small boats not to venture out, but some boat captains opt to ignore such advice. August is the middle of the stormy monsoon season for Phuket and the rest of the Andaman coastline.

In March 2009, a diving boat capsized in a storm off Phuket. Six tourists and the Thai cook drowned, while 23 others were rescued.