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33 dead, many more missing after Thailand tourist boat capsizes

Thai authorities have suspended for the night the search for missing tourists who were on a boat that sank during a storm off the southern resort island of Phuket, as the death toll rose to 33.

Boat was carrying 105 people, including 93 tourists, 11 crew and 1 tour guide

Rescued tourists from a boat that sank gather on a pier Thursday on the island of Phuket, southern Thailand. A boat carrying dozens of Chinese tourists overturned in rough seas off southern Thailand, killing at least 10. (Associated Press)

Thai authorities have suspended for the night the search for missing tourists who were on a boat that sank during a storm off the southern resort island of Phuket, as the death toll rose to 33, all of them Chinese nationals.

The search for another 23 people still missing will resume early Saturday morning, said Prapan Khanprasang, chief of the Phuket Provincial Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Office.

The accident appeared to be Thailand's biggest tourism-related disaster in years, and drew sharp attention from the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok. Visitors to Thailand from China totalled more than 9.8 million people in 2017, constituting the largest share by country. A record 35.38 million foreign tourists in all visited Thailand last year.

The death toll jumped after the navy sent divers to enter the wreck of the tour boat, which capsized and sank Thursday evening when it was hit by 5-metre-high waves. It was carrying 105 people, including 93 tourists, 11 crew and one tour guide.

Rescued people sit on a fishing boat. Dozens remain missing. (Reuters via Reuters TV)

In images released Thursday after the sinking, rescued people sat in large rubber life-rafts surrounded by churning seas. Wearing life-jackets, the survivors were then moved to the deck of what appeared to be a fishing trawler.

As the seas calmed Friday, divers were transporting the bodies of the dead, including at least one child, from smaller boats to a larger ship taking part in the search effort.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of Thailand's military government, expressed his "sympathies and deepest condolences" to the families of the dead.

The government will "exert all efforts to find those still missing and provide support to all survivors of this tragic event," he said in a statement.

Thai rescue personnel move a passenger on a stretcher at Chalong pier in Phuket on Friday. The boat capsized as high winds whipped up rough seas. (Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images)

Reports in Thai media said police charged the owner and captain of the stricken ship with carelessness causing death and injury.

Chinese Ambassador Lyu Jian had an "emergency conversation" by phone with Thai Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, the Chinese Embassy said in a statement, quoting the envoy calling on Thailand to quickly mobilize an intensive search for the missing and "to tend and make appropriate arrangements for the rescued Chinese tourists, treat and cure the injured and receive family members of the Chinese tourists involved."

Lyu asked Somkid to have the relevant Thai agencies closely co-operate with China on the matter, and that the cause of the capsizing would be quickly determined.

In this photo released by the Thailand Royal Police, rescued tourists from a boat that sank are helped onto a pier Thursday, on the island of Phuket. (Thailand Royal Police via AP)

Fatal accidents among foreign tourists at Thai beaches are not unusual, but normally involve drownings in unsafe swimming areas or accidents involving smaller boats.

Thai officials were rushing to cope with some of the logistics of the aftermath of the sinking.

At the request of Phuket's governor, the Phuket Tourist Association was seeking 80 volunteer Chinese-language translators to assist the outgoing passengers at the provincial airport.

The accidents came as rescuers, also led by Thai navy divers, support 12 boys and their soccer coach stranded nearly two weeks inside a flooded cave in the country's far north, and try to determine how and when to extract them.

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