AYUTTHAYA – Searchers in AyutthayaÂ have recovered 18 bodies and are continuing to look for 16 people missing from a heavily loaded boat that sank in a river over the weekend, officials said. Eight of the missing passengers are children aged 2 to 13 year of age.
The two-deck boat was carrying more than 150 Muslims on a holiday excursion when it sank Sunday afternoon on the Chao Phraya river 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Bangkok in Ayutthaya.
Bodies were still being retrieved Monday afternoon, with 18 recovered so far, a Marine Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to release information.
Some bodies were found in the partially overturned boat, while others had drifted downstream. In addition to the 18 dead and 16 missing, 44 people were injured.
A Harbor Department official, said the wooden boat hit a concrete pillar at the river embankment at Wat Sanam Chai in Ayutthaya’s Muang district Sunday afternoon.
Sombat Mongkolchai Tabtim, is two-level tourist boat, was 27 metres long and, according to Marine Department authorities, was registered in 1967 to carry a maximum passenger load of 50.
“Many passengers tried to jump out of the boat and scrambled toward the shore, which was about three to five meters away,” Annop Kudeephan, a 50-year-old survivor, was quoted as saying in The Nation newspaper.
Pol Col Napol Kladkhemphet, deputy commander of Ayutthaya police, said the 67-year-old boat helmsman, Virat Chaisirikul, had been detained for questioning and then charged with recklessly driving the boat and causing deaths.
He Â was Â also charged with carrying more passengers than the boat was permitted to carry. It was licensed for 50 passengers, but there were around 150 on board. According to the Bangkok Post his boat operators license had also expired.
Virat told authorities he tried to avoid another boat on the river, causing it to veer away and hit an embankment at the temple, alarming the passengers who suddenly stood up, causing the boat to list, take on water and sink. Virat also said that he was not familiar with the area.
Marine Department director-general Sorasak Saensombat also said the strong river currents were partially to blame for the incident. Mr Sorasak also said safety equipment on the boat may not have been sufficient for the passengers.
Pol Col Napol said the vessel’s owner, Sunthorn Phansuethong, had contacted the police and he would be questioned later. He would also be charged with carelessness causing death.
Police said the would work with the Marine Department in investigating whether the boat had been operating legally, met safety requirements and carried sufficient life-saving equipment.