BANGKOK, July 10 (Reuters) - Thai rescue workers pulled three more bodies from the Andaman Sea, officials said on Tuesday, as the grim task of identifying more than 40 dead gets underway following a boat accident off the coast of Phuket last week.
“Three more bodies were found. One found near Phi Phi island,” Somnuek Prempramote, commander of Naval Area 3, told a news conference in the popular holiday island off Thailand’s west coast.
The boat, the Phoenix, went down off Phuket in high seas on Thursday with 101 people on board, including 89 tourists, all but two of them from China, during an outing to a small island. Twelve Thai crew were also on board.
The death toll makes it the worst tourist-related disaster in Thailand in years and underscores long-standing concerns about the industry’s safety.
Forty-four people have been confirmed dead and 54 were rescued, officials said on Tuesday.
Rescuers are still searching for three missing people.
Somnuek said rescue workers would continue to search for bodies if weather conditions allow.
“The wind is quite strong,” said Somnuek, adding that plans to lift the sunken vessel were on hold.
“On moving the boat to see whether there are bodies underneath ... this task will need to be assessed to see if it affects evidence in this case. We will continue to consider this option,” he said.
A Thai government minister blamed Chinese tour operators on Monday for the deaths for not respecting Thai safety legislation.
The Phoenix sailed during bad weather. Two other boats capsized in the same area on Thursday but their passengers were brought safely to shore.
So far, more than 50 Chinese families have arrived in Phuket to identify their loved ones and take care of survivors, media reported on Monday.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited Phuket on Thursday and comforted some of the relatives.
The captain of the Phoenix has been charged with negligence causing death, police said. He has denied the charges.
Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng Editing by Paul Tait