BANGKOK – More than 60 people were hospitalized Saturday, mostly for burns, after the engine on a Bangkok commuter boat burst into flames and sent passengers leaping to a nearby pier, officials said.
The crowded boat was ferrying passengers through a major canal in the eastern outskirts of the Thai capital, which boasts an extensive network of waterways that teem with motorized commuter boats during rush hour.
Most of the 65 injured were later released from the hospital, while 19 were still receiving treatment, according to the city’s Erawan emergency medical center.
The center said three foreigners — two Myanmar nationals and one Japanese — were among those injured in the accident.
Bangkok’s police commissioner Sanit Mahathavorn said two passengers were seriously hurt by flying debris from the explosion, which rocked the wooden boat but largely left its hull intact.
“Most of the injured passengers are suffering from burns,” he told reporters from Wat Thepleela pier, where the accident took place shortly after dawn.
An initial police investigation suggested the combustion was caused by a fuel leak onboard.
“We found that gas leaked at the boat’s rear and caused an explosion in its engine,” the officer said.
Security footage showed the back of the boat erupt into flames just as it was docking, sending a storm of passengers scrambling towards the concrete pier.
Witnesses interviewed on Channel 3 said others panicked and leapt into the canal’s murky waters.
The director of Family Transport, a private company that runs the boat service, told the network he would suspend all boats in his fleet that run on liquefied natural gas while the investigation was ongoing.
“We still don’t know how it exploded,” he said, adding that 25 of his boats have been using gas-powered engines for up to eight years without any issues.
The shuttle was traveling on Saen Saeb canal, which runs through the heart of the capital and eventually connects to its main river, the Chao Praya.
Bangkok’s Govenor Sukhumbhand Paribatra visited injured passengers at hospitals in the afternoon and said he would ask the transport ministry to halt all boat services on the canal until the investigation is complete.
“[We] will find an alternative mode of transport to help the public during the suspension,” his office said in a statement.
Bangkok’s canal boats cost no more than one dollar to ride and are among the cheapest and swiftest forms of transportation in traffic-choked Bangkok.
They run around 100,000 passenger journeys a day, according to official figures from 2012.