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2018-07-10 12:19:56

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister has apologized after blaming Chinese tour operators for a boat disaster that claimed more than 40 lives.

Two boats sank off the coast of southern Thailand’s Phuket on Thursday, leaving 44 people dead, according to the latest figures released by the Department of Consular Affairs. The victims were all passengers on a boat called the Phoenix, which was carrying 87 Chinese tourists.

On Monday, Prawit Wongsuwan, who also serves as the country’s Minister of Defence, told reporters that the Pheonix had been operated by a Chinese firm that hadn’t listened to weather warnings telling boats not to set sail. Because the tour operators were at fault, the Thai government wasn’t liable, he said.

In a video clip of Prawit’s interview widely circulated on Chinese social media, he said the incident would not affect Thailand’s tourism, as it wasn’t the government’s fault, and the responsibility lay with the Chinese.

The comments caused outrage among Chinese web users, many of whom expressed displeasure with the amount of compensation offered to victims’ families. According to state news agency Xinhua, the government will give families of the deceased 1 million baht ($30,000), while injured tourists will receive up to 500,000 baht to cover their medical costs.

“How could a country’s deputy prime minister say something like that,” wrote one netizen on microblogging site Weibo. “It’s hilarious that he thinks this would not affect Thailand’s tourism industry.”

On Tuesday, Prawit backed down, saying he had only passed on what he was told. “If I said anything that upsets people, I apologize. That’s what the reports I received said,” Prawit stated, according to local news reports.

Chinese tourists make up almost one-third of Thailand’s foreign arrivals, making them the largest source of tourism for the nation. Thailand recorded 9.8 million Chinese visitors in 2017, bringing in 520 billion baht to the country.

Chinese and Thai authorities are currently working to figure out the cause of the accident and locate the remaining missing people, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters on Monday.

Editor: Julia Hollingsworth.

(Header image: A rescued tourist is helped ashore after the boat he was travelling on capsized near the island of Phuket, Thailand, July 6, 2018. Sooppharoek Teepapan/VCG)