Overcrowded ferry sinks in Thailand with 'many Russians on board'

A tourist ferry has capsized in Thailand near the beach resort city of Pattaya, killing seven people on board. Among them was at least one Russian woman, the Russian Foreign Ministry has confirmed.

Initial media reports stated that four of those killed were foreigners - one Chinese man, one Russian woman, and two Russian men. Three others killed were Thais, the Bangkok Post reported.

Andrey Dvornikov, head of the consular department of the Russian embassy in Thailand, has confirmed the information to Itar-Tass news agency, adding that the vessel lacked life vests. 

However, the Russian Foreign Ministry has so far confirmed the death of only one Russian national, saying that the citizenship of the other victims is being verified.

Local police have said that more than 200 Thai and foreign tourists were on a double-decker ferry.  It was established that the ferry was operating over its capacity, police said. The National News Bureau of Thailand indicate the 12-meter long vessel was licensed to carry up to 150 people. 

More than 100 passengers were wounded, 15 of whom sustained serious injuries, according to reports cited by Itar-Tass.

A 12-year-old Russian boy who was among those rescued is in intensive care in hospital. Doctors then established that he was braindead. His mother remains in stable condition. She needs surgery on her face as she suffered a deep cut.

The Russian embassy said at least three Russians had been taken to hospital. 

Marines from Thailand’s Sattahip Naval Base have been deployed to search for the ship and missing passengers. The number of missing people has not been officially confirmed, but local media has reported that at least 20 are missing.

As an engine problem occurred soon after the boat departed, tourists rushed to the second floor, causing the ferry to flip on its side and eventually sink, Col. Suwan Cheawnavinthavat said. 

Thai rescue personnel evacuate an injured foreign tourist after a ferry sank off the coast in Pattaya on November 3, 2013 (AFP Photo / STR)

‘It was all like a scene from Titanic’

“We were on the next ferry, accidently; we simply were late on that one. It was indeed full of people,” one of the tourists, Olga Blinova told RT. She says she was hurrying her sister, her brother-in-law and her husband to make it on the ferry.

But as they saw that the boat was already crowded, they decided to take the following ferry in 15 minutes.

“We were on the lower deck of the ferry,” Olga says.

Some 15 to 20 minutes later, Olga and her family reached the scene.

“This was really terrifying! Shoes, stuff floating around,” Olga says. “My husband and other people rescued one woman. She was the last one remaining in the water.” 

Another tourist, Aleksandr, was on a similar tourist ferry. He recalled that when the Captain saw the tragedy, he steered the boat towards the sunken vessel.

“Here is what I saw: Waves, a three-decker vessel, and a few smaller boats…It all remained me of the scene from Titanic – people in life jackets and without, floating stuff,”
he told RT.

The ferry Aleksandr was on rescued at least 15 people, mostly Russians.

“We quickly let down the ladder into the water. People began to swim up and we were catching them and taking them to the lower deck,” he said. “Unfortunately there were casualties. We dragged out two Chinese people, a man and a woman in their 30s or 40s. We started CPR, but unsuccessfully,” Aleksandr continued. 

The Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR) told ITAR-TASS news agency that official tours to the island of Koh Larn, where the sunken vessel was returning from, are very rare now. Hence, ATOR suggested that the tourists were traveling on their own. Russian tour operators have not confirmed that their clients were among the passengers, ATOR executive director Maya Lomidze said.