TWO thousand or more people have probably been wrongly listed as victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, an investigation has revealed.
Figures supplied by embassies indicate that the ultimate toll of the tsunami in Thailand will be less than 6000 dead, not the 8300 tally indicated by official figures. (*The toll is now generally accepted to be 5395.)
Local and international media who descended on Phuket, Phang Nga and Phi Phi for anniversary remembrance services were supplied with figures that are demonstrably wrong.
The 'One Year in Memory of Tsunami' booklet, handed to all reporters, states that the big wave killed 5,395 people and left 2,940 others still missing, 2,023 of them Thais, plus 917 foreigners.
One year after the tsunami, many media outlets report this group as ''missing, presumed dead,'' assuming the total toll to be 8,335. One Australian newspaper even speculated recently that the toll could rise as high as 11,000.
'Tsunami 2004 Nam Chai Thai,' a small book given to journalists on the anniversary, combines Dead and Missing figures and says: ''By adding the number of people registered as missing (2,965) and assuming that they perished, the number of dead victims amounted to 8,360.''
Yet the proportion of dead-to-missing among the foreigners who are known to have been killed indicates that the official ''missing'' figure is extremely inaccurate.
As forensic police continue to give names to the unidentified victims, the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification team, comprising officers from 18 countries, updates its records.
But for privacy reasons, only individual embassies can reveal the numbers of dead and missing for each nation.
In contacting 14 embassies with relatively large numbers of victims, we have established huge disparities between the TTVI/embassy figures and the Thai government figures.
In the official booklet, 917 foreigners are still listed as missing. Yet the 14 countries in the survey indicate that only 59 of their nationals are still missing.
These countries have a total of almost 2000 dead. So their collective ratio of dead to missing is 1986:59, a far cry from the official 5395:2940.
If the Thai government can supply names for the 917 foreigners listed as missing, then the 14 nations appear to have no idea who 856 of them might be.
The co-Chief of Staff of the TTVI, Colonel Pornprasert Kanjanarin, said: ''Those [official government] figures are compiled by the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, largely from relatives who report people missing, but there has been no adjustment to the figures.
''Those reported missing will simply be added to the database.''
Among the 5395 confirmed victims are 805 nameless bodies yet to be identified by the TTVI. This is where most of the ''missing'' are likely to be found eventually.
The total number of confirmed dead is about 50 percent Thai and non-Thai. Tourists and villagers were equally exposed to the effects of the tsunami, so the proportion of dead to missing among both groups is certain to be similar.
Despite several telephone calls, we were unable to trace the person responsible for the figures at the department.
Provincial governments also still quote large numbers of ''missing'' as follows: Phuket (dead 279, missing 478), Phang Nga (dead 4,225, missing 1,655) and Krabi where most deaths were recorded on the island of Phi Phi (dead 721, missing 544).
What the new cast on the figures demonstrates is that the big wave had two sides to its nature. The awesome, deadly power of the wall of water was balanced by a benign aftermath.
Instead of carrying victims out into the ocean, never to be seen again, the small number of missing indicates that the tsunami simply swirled the bodies along the holiday coast, then deposited them back on shore or close to the beaches.
This explains why some resorts reported no fatalities yet had bodies deposited there. Tsunami video confirms the swirling motion.
The efficient response by the Thai military and volunteers ensured that the bodies of victims were quickly recovered from the sea.
Oceanographic researcher Somkiat Khokiattiwong, of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, said that there were no strong currents along the Andaman coast at that time of the year to drag people out to sea.
Satein Petchkleang, the chief at the hardest-hit village of all, Nam Khem, north of Khao Lak in Phang Nga province, said that the toll in the village was 850, but he could not separate the known dead from the missing.
Five layers of local government link hundreds of villages along the coast of the six affected provinces to the national authorities in Bangkok.
Indonesia announced a major revision downwards of its tally of victims earlier this year.
NON-THAI TSUNAMI VICTIMS
Country Dead Missing
Germany 534 14
Sweden 526 17
Finland 177 7
Britain 150 6
Switzerland 110 5
France 90 5
Austria 86 2
Norway 84 0
Korea 78 0
Hong Kong 40 2
Holland 36 0
Japan 28 1
United States 24 0
Australia 23 0
*Figures supplied by individual embassies. Sweden was thought to have most victims, but now Germany narrowly tops the known toll. Of the seven Finns still missing, six are children. The United States tally includes several Asian-Americans and an 11-day-old baby. The British tally includes victims from Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Death certificates have been issued for four of the six missing Britons.