Thai ferry captain turns self in to police, admits taking drugs before his vessel sank

Captain reportedly hands himself in after admitting he was high on drugs while on duty, causing him and crew to lose control of vessel

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 9:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 11:05am

The captain of a ferry that capsized about 1.5 kilometres from the tourist resort of Pattaya on Sunday evening has turned himself in, telling police he was high on drugs while on duty. Six people died, including one from Hong Kong.

Saman Kwanmuang, 42, turned himself into police on Sunday night, hours after his ferry capsized while returning about 200 Thai and foreign tourists from a day trip to the nearby island of Koh Larn.

The Chonburi police chief, Major General Katcha Tatusatra, said the captain confessed to officers that he took some drugs before going to work, and that he and the crew lost control of the vessel as a result, the Bangkok Post reported. The captain allegedly confessed that the ferry wandered off course and hit rocks, breaching the vessel.

Video: Six dead as tourist ferry sinks off Thai resort

According to a report in another newspaper, the Daily News, Mr Saman turned off all power so he could try to fix the water pump. He issued no warning to his passengers, supposedly so they would not panic.

However, after 10 minutes so much water had flowed into the bottom deck of the two-level vessel that passengers started to panic. The captain allegedly told police that squabbles broke out apparently because there were not enough life jackets to go around.

The tragedy raised new questions about safety standards in the kingdom, which drew a record 22 million tourists last year but is struggling to shake off a reputation for lax regulation.

Three Thais and two other unidentified foreigners were among the dead, according to officials in Pattaya. On Sunday, Pattaya police chief Colonel Suwan Cheawnavinthavat said the other two dead were Russians.

"The boat went down in minutes. I saw people - some with life jackets, some without - in the water. One man was holding on to a gas cylinder. There was a body face down in the water. They were all panicking, shouting for help," said a local dive guide who was one of the first on the scene.

Police said that apart from the six dead, all of the 150-200 others on the boat - including many Russians - were believed to have been rescued. Nineteen people were injured, including one from Guangdong and a 29-year-old from Hong Kong.

Both Hongkongers on the boat were known to each other, an official said.

The Guangdong tourist was discharged from Pattaya Memorial Hospital yesterday while the surviving Hongkonger was in a stable condition and could be discharged as early as today, said a Chinese embassy official.

On Pattaya's main pier it was business as usual yesterday for the operators of double-decker wooden ferries preparing to take tourists out on day cruises.

"After an accident like this the boats should be grounded for checks but today they are all running," said a European working in the town's marine tourism industry. "The boats are very old. There's no maintenance. They are always overcrowded ... there's no head count."