2-day memorial ends for Chinese victims of Thai boat tragedy

PHUKET, Thailand — A two-day memorial observance in Thailand for a group of 47 Chinese visitors who died when their tour boat sank in bad weather concluded Thursday with a candlelight ceremony.

The day's mass merit-making included a prayer session led by a Buddhist monk, meditation and shared vegetarian meals.

Two tour boats sank off Thailand's southern resort island of Phuket on July 5. Tourists from one boat were rescued, while the sinking of the double-decker Phoenix left 47 Chinese tourists dead.

The accident was one of Thailand's worst tourism-related disasters in recent years.

Phuket officials said five people have been charged so far with responsibility for the tragedy, including the owner and two operators of the Phoenix.

They have been accused of negligence causing death, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Officials said several other people are also under investigation, including some at the company that built the boat.

Phuket Gov. Norraphat Plodthong said the island is implementing stricter regulations and improving safety measures for boat operations, including better docking procedures and an improved radio communications system.

"We have asked for cooperation but it hasn't worked. Now we are implementing strict enforcement (of safety measures) by all agencies, with the governor overseeing the effort. And I believe that other provinces will follow suit," he said.

Tourism Minister Weerasak Kowsurat, asked about the effect of the incident on future tourism prospects, said the situation was "still in a period of recovery."

"It may be too soon to talk about (tourists') confidence. This is a time to heal," he said. "Monetary compensation has been almost completed. Now we are healing our spirits, since the loss of the Chinese is the loss of life. And the next thing we have to focus on is prosecution (of those responsible)."

Visitors to Thailand from China totaled more than 9.8 million people in 2017, constituting the largest share by country of a record 35.38 million foreign tourists in all.

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