BANGKOK (AP) — Two speedboats packed with 62 tourists crashed Wednesday off the coast of southern Thailand, leaving at least two dead and more than 20 injured. The fatalities were identified as Chinese.
Wednesday's crash was the latest incident to mar the country's image as a tourist paradise, and the third crash in two weeks involving boats that shuttle vacationers to Thailand's resort islands — often at high speed.
The collision involved two boats that were "filled to capacity" with mostly Chinese and Korean tourists on a morning trip from the popular island of Phuket to smaller islands nearby, the Phuket City Hall said in a statement.
Police said they were investigating how the two boats crashed in broad daylight but suspected that speed was a factor.
"It had to be that they were going too fast, that's why there was an accident," said Lt. Col. Prasert Srikhunrat, deputy superintendent of Phuket's marine police. He said there was light rain, which decreased visibility but he did not believe weather was entirely to blame.
"Luckily everyone was wearing life vests, or the number of fatalities would have been higher," he said.
One of the boats was carrying 26 passengers and the other had 36 people on board, including the two who died, he said. They were identified as a Chinese man and woman. Marine police boats rescued people, many from the water, in an operation that took about 90 minutes, he said. The larger of the two boats sunk and the other boat was towed to shore, where paramedics treated the injured and carried some away on stretchers.
Tourism is a key source of revenue for Thailand, which received nearly 30 million foreign visitors in 2015.
Boat, tour bus crashes and other accidents involving tourists have become common, as the numbers of visitors increase annually in Thailand, which is known for its lax enforcement of laws and safety regulations.
On Sunday, a speedboat near the resort island of Koh Samet rammed into an anchored boat, injuring 30 people on board, according to Thai news reports.
In late May, another speedboat carrying 32 tourists capsized in rough waters off Koh Samui, leaving four tourists dead. Two victims were from Britain and the others killed were from Germany and Hong Kong.
In February, two Russian tourists were badly injured while scuba diving off Phi Phi island in Krabi province, when a speedboat's propeller severed one of the men's legs and cut deep gashes into the other man's leg.
A 52-year-old French woman died after being struck by a boat while swimming in waters reserved for snorkelers near an island off Krabi province.