''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.