At least six tourists are dead and 15 others injured after an overcrowded ferry sank in eastern Thailand Sunday afternoon en route from Lan Island (Ko Lan) to the popular mainland resort town of Pattaya. The fatal incident was just the latest in a series of high-profile mishaps that have made the “Land of Smiles” anything but.
Police Col. Suwan Cheawnavinthavat confirmed to local media Sunday that more than 200 Thai and foreign tourists were onboard the ferry when it capsized between the daytrip island of Lan and Pattaya, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of Bangkok. Among the deceased were one Chinese, two Russians and three Thais. A 9-year-old Russian boy was also said to be in an intensive care unit at a local hospital.
Pattaya, a bustling beach resort that’s known for its neon lights and racy nightlife, is particularly popular with Chinese and Russians on package holidays. The Ria Novosti news agency quoted a Russian embassy official in Bangkok as saying that “at least half of the passengers were Russian tourists.”
Local reports suggested that the double-decker ship encountered engine problems soon after departing Lan Island, sending the tourists rushing to the second floor as the first floor flooded. That shift in weight eventually toppled the ferry and forced all passengers and crew into the Gulf of Thailand.
The National News Bureau of Thailand said the 12-meter-long (40-foot) vessel was only licensed to carry up to 150 people. Police acknowledged that the ship appeared to have been operating over capacity and may have lacked proper safety equipment. "Witnesses said there were neither enough tubes nor life vests on the ferry,” police Col Suwan told the Bangkok Post. “Some of those who cannot swim had to cling onto coolers or ice containers until rescuers came."
Thailand continues to draw record numbers of tourists -- 22 million last year, up from 19 million in 2011 -- but is struggling to properly deal with a growing problem of lax safety standards amid a series of fatal incidents involving tourists. And its not just poor safety regulations; crime, too, has risen in recent years.
Thailand has the highest gun ownership rate in all of Asia with 15.6 guns per 100 people. That figure puts it well ahead of Pakistan, the next closest nation in the region with 11.6 guns per 100 residents. Thailand’s Justice Ministry believes the number of young people carrying guns has increased 32 percent over the past decade.
A rash of violence in 2012 reignited the debate over gun control. A senator “accidentally” shot his secretary with an Uzi submachine gun at a dinner in October, just one month before a “Gangnam Style” dance-off deteriorated into a violent shootout between two rival gangs.
Tourists, too, fell victim last year. Two Canadian sisters were found dead in their bungalow in the Phi Phi Islands in June, believed poisoned. A week later, an Australian travel agent on an industry tour was stabbed to death in a bag-snatch gone wrong in Phuket, while on Christmas Day, two Russian women were abducted, robbed and raped in Pattaya.
Such problems did not subside in 2013. Here’s a timeline of incidents involving foreign nationals that track an unnerving trend of troubles in paradise:
October 2013: An Indian woman celebrating her wedding anniversary was killed in a parasailing accident in Pattaya after her parasail failed to launch.
August 2013: Two Chinese tourists were killed traveling between Pattaya and Lan Island when their speedboat crashed.
August 2013: Twenty-six Russians were injured, three seriously, when their tour bus malfunctioned and overturned in western Thailand.
August 2013: A drunk Thai man stabbed a British tourist in the neck in Pattaya.
July 2013: Three Thai musicians allegedly stabbed an American tourist after he refused to stop singing at a bar.
July 2013: Another American died in a row with a taxi driver in Bangkok.
July 2013: Twenty-three foreigners were injured when seven of 10 train carriages derailed on a trip between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. It was the second derailment on the same route in a month.
June 2013: A Chinese man was fatally run over by a speedboat near Ko Phi Phi.
May 2013: More than 100 people were rescued after a tourist ferry started to sink in rough seas near the popular resort island of Phuket.
May 2013: A Chinese tourist mysteriously drowned on a snorkeling day trip from Phuket.
Jan 2013: A British tourist died after he found himself in the middle of a gang-related shootout at a New Year’s celebration on the resort island of Ko Pha Ngan.