Dozens missing after two boats capsized in Phuket Thailand. Handout photos from the Phuket Rescue Team.
Dozens dead as Phuket tourist boats capsize
01:09 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Dozens of people are dead or missing after two boats carrying tourists capsized in 16-foot waves whipped up by a violent storm off the coast of the resort island of Phuket, the Thai government said on Friday.

Thai officials didn’t confirm the number of deaths in their latest press conference, but a government site is still reporting at least 40 dead and there are conflicting numbers in media reports.

Authorities have launched an investigation into the incident.

The Thai Prime Minister’s Office shared condolences with the families of the victims, saying that the government “will exert all efforts to find those still missing and provide support to all survivors of this tragic event.”

One of the vessels, the Phoenix PC Diving ship, was carrying 105 passengers, including Thai crew members, tourist guides, and 93 tourists – many of them Chinese holidaymakers.

Phuket – known for its beaches and luxurious resorts – is one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations and many of its foreign visitors are Chinese tourists.

The Chinese Embassy in Thailand said 16 Chinese nationals have been confirmed dead and 33 were missing. Seventy-eight Chinese nationals have been rescued. it said.

A team of diplomats from the Chinese consulate and embassy in Thailand were rushed to Phuket overnight to visit people in hospitals and assist with the rescue response.

“[China’s] Ministry of Foreign Affairs has immediately activated an emergency response system and take the lead to organize a multi-ministry working group which is on their way to Thailand for assistance,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.

Thai rescue personnel carry one of the deceased passengers recovered from the capsized tourist boat.

The Thai authorities have provided conflicting information regarding the total number of people who were on the two boats and a jet ski that sank on Thursday afternoon in rough seas. The vessels went out despite a severe weather warning, which was still in place for much of the country’s southern coast on Friday, according to the Thailand Meteorological Department.

Thai rescue personnel respond to the scene off the coast of Phuket.

Thailand is in the middle of monsoon season, which brings high winds and flash storms to coastal areas.

In a separate incident – which has transfixed Thailand and the world – monsoon rains flooded a cave in northern Thailand, trapping 12 boys and their soccer coach deep inside. A huge rescue operation is underway at the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex, where dozens of Thai Navy SEALs and international experts are attempting to find a way to get the boys out.

Rescue personnel carry an injured passenger on a stretcher.

On Friday morning, the Thai Navy, marine police and local fishermen were still searching for survivors off the coast of Phuket, dispatching helicopters, fishing vessels and divers to scour the waters.

Images from the scene posted to the Thai Navy’s Facebook page showed some of the rescued passengers wearing life jackets on inflatable rafts. Other photos showed Thai rescue personnel delivering injured passengers onto Chalong pier in Phuket for medical treatment.

From CNN’s Joe Sterling and Journalist Yim Lamlertkerdkan in Atlanta