The craft was heading from the resort island of Koh Phi Phi to Phuket. Hakan Ergun from Sydney, his wife and their two young daughters aged eight and two were among 37 passengers aboard.
Everyone survived the sinking – but that was largely due to luck or a miracle.
“The boat and the crew were hopeless,” Ergun, 38, told Phuketwan news website.
“The captain and the crew, they had no idea whatsoever. It was every man for himself. I had to kick myself free as the boat went down. I thought it was the end. My daughter and I actually went under the water but luckily we surfaced.”
Ergun said the lifejackets “weren’t really lifejackets at all” and had buckles missing. He said it was a miracle everyone stayed afloat.
The passengers were on a Phuket to Phi Phi island-to-island tour, with a Thai guide and three crew. Passengers included four members of the Ergun family, two New Zealanders, two Turks, two Kuwaitis, two Koreans and other tourists thought to be from China, Indonesia and Europe.
Another speedboat picked up 13 of the tourists, including a child, from the water and took them back to Koh Phi Phi. The other 24 tourists, and crew members, bobbed in stormy seas for over an hour until another speedboat from the same company reached and rescued them.
The Phuket-based tour operator has pledged to cover all medical expenses for those injured in the incident “and to offer compensation for the emotional stress suffered”, according to reports.
Phuketwan reports that speedboats on Phuket venture out to sea even in dangerous weather. Ergun said there was no GPS or radio aboard. “The standards are appalling.”
The Chao Fa Krabi Rescue Centre, which helped rescue the passengers, expressed surprise that any kind of small boat was on the water in such rough weather.
Another speedboat sank between Phi Phi and Phuket in January, giving other Australian families a narrow escape.
The most extraordinary case, according to Phuketwan, was in 2009, when a dive boat capsized and sank off Phuket, killing seven people. In that calamity, no aerial search was mounted for the 23 survivors, adrift in two life-rafts. Eventually, the survivors had to borrow a mobile phone from a passing fishing boat and organise their own rescue.
Written by Peter Needham