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Honeymooners Gareth and Natalie Lee tell of the burning ferry

Survivors Tell of Screams, Rush to Jump

Thursday, April 9, 2015
PHUKET: Some tourists lost everything in the desperate scramble to flee as flames consumed a large Phuket-bound ferry today.

''The boat was too hot to stick around,'' one passenger said tonight as survivors of the fire and sinking were debriefed on Phuket. ''There was no time to think. We had to jump for our lives.''

Several people at Phuket City Police Station were wearing only swim trunks. They lost all their possessions - including passports - in the fire.

Some travellers said that most of the crew were in the water before the passengers. Others said they had to scramble through windows on the top deck to escape, then found their route to safety blocked by crowds of people with precisely the same idea.

Everyone said there was no alarm, just screams of ''Fire! The boat is on fire!''

People from at least 10 countries were on board the ferry Ao Nang Princess 5 this afternoon, travelling between the Thai holiday destinations of Krabi and Phuket, when the smell of smoke and a loud bang told some near the stern that there was a problem.

''We heard a bang and the cabin filled with smoke,'' said Gareth Lee, 36, from Macclesfield, who was enjoying his honeymoon on Phuket with his bride, Natalie, 29.

The couple were near the stern, where the fire is believed to have begun and where a 12-year-old Israeli girl is believed to have perished in a toilet.

''The staff except for two of them jumped overboard and left everyone to fend for themselves. We grabbed life jackets and the boat went up in flames.''

Natalie said: ''We were in the water for about half an hour.''

''We were all waiting on the boat to be told what to do but most of the crew had jumped overboard,'' Gareth said. ''Nobody knew what we were supposed to do.''

Natalie added: ''We had people saying 'Speedboats are coming.' People telling us to jump, people telling us to stay. In the end, everyone just jumped.''

The couple were at the back when the fire broke out.

''The boat lost all its power then the fire started,'' said Natalie.

Another British passenger, Bailey Moss, 18, travelling with his mother Gina Moss, 45, said: ''I was in the top deck and I heard my Mum scream: 'the boat's on fire, get out of there.'

''Windows were being broken and people were passing out life jackets. The fire was getting closer and closer.

We didn't get any instructions what to do. We all jumped and then we climbed on a speedboat.''

Gina Moss, from London, said: ''The crew on the boat did not know what to do. The fire was at the back and we were trying to get to the front. We had to ask for life jackets.

''In the end, everyone just jumped. But the crew, they didn't know what to do.''

The group had been staying in Railey on Krabi for three days.

''We've been here five times - but not again,'' she said.

Gaynor Sunasky, on holidays with husband Howard from Adelaide in Australia, said they were four or five rows back from the bridge, on the top deck.

''I thought it was a burning rubber smell,'' said Gaynor. ''Then people were screaming and you could see it very quickly.

''We couldn't get out off the deck so we had to get out through a window. The fire was blocking out way.

''We had to jump. It was too hot to stay on board. i was frightened the whole thing would go up.

''People were so terrified, we didn't know what to do. The captain stayed on board. It was chaotic.

''We couldn't all jump at once until people cleared out of the way.''

Howard said: ''We heard the poor man yelling that he couldn't get his daughter out of the toilet.''

The couple had lost all their baggage but fortunately kept their passports in a handbag.

Other passengers came from Thailand, China, Hungary, Egypt, Ukraine, Colombia and Lithuana.

Those travelling with their luggage mostly lost everything.

Martin Carpenter, Phuket's honorary consul for Britain, was trying to organise clothing and replacement passports for several British citizens who had only their swim trunks.

Phuket's honorary consuls - who in many cases are also responsible for Krabi - were not notified of the disaster.

Had they been called, some of the pain that passengers will now suffer in restoring documents and clothing could have been avoided.

Relations between envoys and police and Phuket officials have deteriorated because the Governor of Phuket and his predecessor have opted not to hold the regular three-monthly forums with the island's consuls.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Some travellers said that most of the crew were in the water before the passengers.


The crew has learnt well from Capt. Schettino.

Posted by Sue on April 9, 2015 01:48


Some travellers said that most of the crew were in the water before the passengers

How nice of them adhereing to passenger safety first....obviously and as always, passenger safety is the last thing on the crews minds

Posted by sky on April 9, 2015 01:59


wow, when will the Thais understand safety?

Posted by Sheila on April 9, 2015 06:37


Shouldn't everyone be wearing a life jacket while seated on the boat?

Not asking for them before they jump.

Posted by Tbs on April 9, 2015 07:18

Editor Comment:

Most ferries from Phuket appear to have life vests hanging over the backs of seats, leaving the decision about whether to wear them up to the passengers. The correct comparison is probably with aircraft. Speedboats are different - life vests clearly should be worn at all times.


Accident first... then authorities will think what to do... talk a lot... do very little... create a few new rules but rarely (if ever) enforce.

It's about time the relevant authorities were held responsible for these accidents as they are clearly not doing their job properly.

Perhaps cutting off some of the big heads (figuratively speaking) might finally see some changes. Might.

Posted by Duncan on April 9, 2015 07:49


Perhap the first step would be to have a gouvernmental Marine Training Center in Phuket as the only one is in Samuk-Prakan near Bangkok.
All boat staff have just 1-2 day quick training about safety once a year or two.

Posted by Whistle-Blower on April 9, 2015 10:50


a 12 year old girl lost her life how many more of these avoidable accidents do we need. Only people that can pay to maintain their boats should be able to take people's lives in their hands. ENFORCEMENT OF THE LAWS NEEDED. So sad to hear an innocent young girl dies.

Posted by Welcome To Paradise on April 9, 2015 11:10


No automatically inflatable life rafts then? IMO requirements (to which Thailand is a signatory) require them as law. Take a well run boat here such as Blue world for example (no connection to me). Licensed for 55 and has 4 25 person liferafts. However they are expensive but so is life unless money comes in the way it seems.

Posted by Stuart on April 9, 2015 15:54

Editor Comment:

If the crew are mostly in the water before the passengers. are life rafts an option?


Just wanted to comment on Editors reply to "Shouldn't everyone be wearing a life jacket while seated on the boat?"You said that life vests should be worn all the time, however this is not the case even on the speedboats. While staying in Phuket we bought a trip to Maya Bay on a speed boat, we were not offered any life vests during the trip only told about the vests when we stoped for snorkeling. So definitely, Thai people should do something about the safety, this time 12 year old girl lost her many more to come??

Posted by Nika on April 9, 2015 19:08

Editor Comment:

Ferries and speedboats are in different categories, I believe. People should wear jackets on speedboats at all times but on ferries, which undertake longer journeys, having one at hand is probably safe enough. People don't walk around cruise liners or tankers with life vests on all the time. Ferries are in that category - speedboats are not. People not offered life vests on speedboats should complain to tour agents or officials at the pier.



those conventions are in general not applicable to Thai domestic traffic.

Posted by Sue on April 9, 2015 19:26


Sue, If they are commercial then IMO rules apply even for domestic.
Ed just for information, the liferafts are designed to float free, no crew operation is needed although it is desirable to launch them beforehand.

Posted by stuart on April 10, 2015 11:04

Editor Comment:

Float free? What, as the ferry sinks beneath the water?


As per usual everyone is judging as fast as they possible can.

Who knows what the crew tried to do and if they even had decent (or any) health and safety training.

Posted by Chris on April 10, 2015 12:21


Yes Ed that is exactly what they do, it is a safety feature that if the boat sinks before the crew can launch them then they float off the boat. If the raft is lashed down then a hydrostatic release unit is fitted to allow just that.

Posted by stuart on April 10, 2015 13:06

Editor Comment:

If there is a fire on board, stuart, precisely how do life rafts work?


in real life regulations it goes as follows:
- before departure there will be a safety induction
- if there is a fire, the crew will launch the rafts, or the passengers can opt to don lifejackets and jump
- if the vessel sinks/capsizes the life rafts will deploy automatically once inundated
- never wear a lifejacket whilst indoors on board a vessel. (but make sure to know where they are)
- always wear a lifejacket when on deck

Posted by paul on April 10, 2015 16:38

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