Thai rescuers pulled 28 bodies from waters off the coast of the holiday island of Phuket on Friday after a tourist boat went down in heavy seas with dozens of Chinese passengers on board.
The dead were found drifting face down in the water, still wearing life jackets, several kilometres (miles) from where the Phoenix sank after being hit by five-metre (15-foot) high waves in a storm on Thursday evening.
"Twenty-six bodies have been found and brought to here (Chalong pier). At least two (more) bodies will be transferred to this port soon," Archayon Kraithong, deputy commissioner of Thailand's Tourist police, told AFP.
"The mission will go on," he added.
In a grisly development, divers reported seeing "over 10 bodies" floating inside the hull of the submerged boat, according to Thai navy Rear Admiral Charoenphon Khumrasee, who said they would try to retrieve them later Friday.
One survivor, a Chinese woman, was rushed to hospital in Phuket, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, after she was found several kilometres from the boat having spent the night in the water.
Her condition was unknown.
The three-decker boat was carrying 105 passengers, mostly Chinese tourists, when it sank.
"The skies were clear when we went out, we had no idea the weather could change so fast," said Wu Jun, 28, from the hospital bedside of his wife Long Hai Ning.
The pair, who were on their honeymoon, were on different decks as the boat started to list, but both managed to escape.
"I grabbed onto a railing and pulled myself overboard," he told AFP, adding he feared women and children were among those who were trapped on the bottom deck as the boat went down.
A total of 56 passengers were reported missing as of Friday morning before the recovery effort began, with the Phoenix looking set to be one of the worst boat disasters in recent Thai history.
The boat sank 40 metres below the surface of the Andaman Sea, a few kilometres off the coast of Koh He, an islet known for its coral formations and popular with day-trippers from the tourist magnet of Phuket.
A stream of full body bags were brought to shore at Chalong pier in Phuket and taken to a nearby hospital for identification.
Helicopters continued to scan the water Friday afternoon in what appeared to be an increasingly forlorn hunt for survivors.
"I'm not really sure how many will survive," a grim-faced Noraphat Plodthong, the governor of Phuket, told reporters.
Death toll from Thai boat disaster rises to 21
The death toll from a boat accident near the Thai holiday island of Phuket surged to 21, officials said Friday, as divers reported seeing multiple bodies inside the sunken hull of the Phoenix tourist vessel.
Phuket provincial rescue centre said "21 bodies" had been retrieved from the water, while Rear Admiral Charoenphon Khumrasee of the Thai navy said divers had seen "over 10 bodies" inside the submerged boat, which was carrying Chinese tourists when it went down on Thursday.
12 bodies found, dozens missing as Chinese tourist boat sinks off Thailand
Thailand's navy pulled 12 bodies from waters off the coast of the holiday island of Phuket on Friday after a tourist boat went down in heavy seas with dozens of Chinese passengers on board.
Five were found drifting face down in the water, still wearing life jackets, several miles from the area where the Phoenix sank after being hit by five-metre (15-foot) high waves in a storm on Thursday evening.
One survivor, a Chinese woman, was rushed to hospital in Phuket, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, after she was also found several miles from the boat, floating near the bodies of fellow passengers. Her condition was unknown.
Forty-three other passengers remain unaccounted for but are believed to have been trapped on the Phoenix, which sank as it was returning from a day trip from Phuket.
"The 12 bodies are on the way to Vachira Phuket Hospital for identification," according to a statement from the Public Health Ministry in Bangkok.
Helicopters scanned the water Friday as divers tried to reach the boat which the Thai navy said had sunk 40 metres below the surface of the Andaman Sea, a few kilometres (miles) off the coast of Koh He, an islet known for its coral formations and popular with day-trippers from Phuket.
Seven bodies found as hopes dim for Chinese tourist boat sunk off Thai coast
Thailand's navy pulled seven bodies from waters off the coast of the holiday island of Phuket on Friday after a tourist boat went down in heavy seas with dozens of Chinese passengers on board.
The grim find takes the death toll so far to eight, with 49 other passengers unaccounted for but believed to have been trapped on the Phoenix as it sank in the Andaman Sea on Thursday afternoon.
The vessel, which made a day trip from Phuket despite a weather warning, keeled over after it was battered by five-metre (15-foot) high storm waves.
"Navy searchers found seven dead (on Friday morning)," Busaya Jaipiem, a spokeswoman for Phuket province told AFP, as helicopters scanned the sea and divers tried to reach the sunken boat.
The Phoenix was carrying 105 passengers, the majority Chinese tourists, when it hit trouble, sparking a rescue attempt that took place in the dark.
Some 48 people - passengers and crew - were rescued before the operation was suspended late Thursday.
But by Friday morning hopes of finding further significant numbers of survivors had dimmed, as ambulances waited to receive the bodies at Chalong Pier on Phuket island.
"I assume they are trapped inside the boat... but I wish some of them have survived," Phuket governor Noraphat Plodthong told reporters.
"I have not yet received any reports of people floating in the sea," he added.
The body of one of the passengers, believed to be a Chinese holidaymaker, had been pulled from the sea late Thursday and brought to shore, shortly before the search was called off for the night.
The Thai navy said the Phoenix had sunk 40 metres below the surface, a few kilometres (miles) off the coast of Koh He, an islet known for its coral formations and popular with day-trippers from Phuket.
"Navy divers, frogmen and marine police divers have already been sent to the scene," Rear Admiral Charoenphon Khumrasee, deputy commander for Thai Navy in the southern region told reporters.
"Helicopters will search for those who may have floated out."
Thailand is already in the global spotlight for a dramatic rescue mission in the north of the country, after 12 boys and their football coach were trapped in a cave complex.
Stunned survivors of the boat accident huddled in blankets on a Phuket pier late Thursday.
Some cried while others appeared dazed as they walked around still wearing their life vests.
"Eleven are injured, of these two are in serious condition," the governor added.
The Phoenix was among several boats that appeared to have ignored a severe weather warning in place since Wednesday to take tourists on day-trips to the islands that dot the seas off Phuket.
A Chinese consular official arrived at the operations centre in Phuket to monitor the rescue effort.
Several other vessels hit trouble late Thursday. Initial reports from officials said all of the passengers on those boats were rescued.
But as details dripped through overnight, governor Noraphat said two passengers were still unaccounted for from another stricken ship.
Phuket is a magnet for overseas visitors including Western sun-seekers and huge numbers of Chinese tourists who make up the bulk of the 35 million people expected to visit Thailand this year.
Thailand has a poor health and safety record and accidents are common on its roads and busy waterways - especially in tourist areas during the monsoon season which is now biting.