Tourist Police Bureau deputy chief Surachate Hakparn (middle) announces progress in the investigation into the sinking of two tour boats off Phuket in which 44 Chinese tourists drowned. (Photo: Tourist Police Bureau)

Two tour operators linked to vessels that foundered in rough seas off Phuket last week, causing many deaths, provided substandard boats and life vests, and were in violation of company ownership laws, the Tourist Police Bureau charged on Wednesday.

TC Blue Dream Ltd is “linked to” the deaths of 44 Chinese tourists who were on board the ill-fated Phoenix snorkelling boat last Thursday, while Lazy Cat Travel is “associated with” the Sereniga, which sank the same day although all crew and passengers were rescued, deputy Tourist Bureau chief Surachate Hakparn said on Wednesdsay.

An inspection at the dock in Phuket where Phoenix was believed to have been built found the boat fell short of safety standards, which affected its engines and water pumps, according to investigators who cited information obtained from a worker involved in the vessel’s construction.

An engine from a 10 wheel truck was adapted and installed in the boat, which was not standard and posed a risk. The water pump was also found to be smaller than the standard requirement.

Police also found irregularities when they raided TC Blue Dream Ltd that raised doubts about its legal ownership.

The office was a “temporary” structure,  which suggested it may be illegally operated by Thai nominees on behalf of Chinese businessmen based in China, Pol Maj Gen Surachate said.

A check of documents at TC Blue Dream Ltd also raised suspicions about money transfers out of Thailand, backing an assumption of illegal company ownership, according to the Anti-Money Laundering Office, which joined the tourist police operation on Tuesday that covered 11 targets.

At Lazy Cat Travel investigators found many items imported without payment of customs tariffs, and life vests that were not certified by the Thai Industrial Standard Institute, Pol Maj Gen Surachate said.

The life vests were claimed to be made in Nakhon Ratchasima, but an inspection found they came from Lop Buri, he said.

During the operation, police arrested Itthirot Chawanphitalk and a Chinese man on forest encroachment and tax avoidance charges.

Mr Itthirot runs Water Beach Club, a bar allegedly built on sor por kor land, which is degraded forest reserved for agricultural purposes.

He is also former manager of Tranlee Travel and believed to have connections with Lazy Cat Travel, according to the Tourist Police Bureau.

Tranlee Travel was accused of transferring money to Chinese businessmen who allegedly used fake Thai identity cards to run businesses in Thailand.


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