Driver started bus fire; tourism at risk
Tourism to Taiwan may take another blow, on top of the already declining number of mainland visitors, following the end of a probe into the bus blaze on July 19 that killed 26 people, experts say.
Investigators concluded on Saturday that the driver intentionally caused the deadly incident.
On Saturday, the Taoyuan District Prosecutors’ Office, making public the findings of its probe, said bus driver Su Ming-cheng set himself alight using gasoline with a group of 24 mainland tourists and one tour guide on board.
According to the prosecutors, it was a premeditated act by Su, who had been complaining about a five-year sentence he had been given in a separate criminal case.
Prosecutors say Su filled a plastic container with 8.3 liters of gasoline at a gas station in Chiayi on July 14 and stored it on the bus. He later used the gasoline to set the bus ablaze.
Su had consumed large amounts of alcohol before he crashed the bus on the highway, trapping of all the passengers inside the fire engulfed vehicle, the prosecutors said.
The tour group, from Liaoning province, was minutes away from the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, where they had been scheduled to catch a plane back to the mainland.
The fire is likely to hit to the tourism industry, which had already suffered from sharp falls in the numbers of tourists from the mainland since new leader Tsai Ing-wen took office in May.
“Although the probe itself is respectable and shows fairness and objectivity, the results trigger worries over the possibility that there could be more people with mental instability,” said Liu Xiangping, head of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at Nanjing University.
Liu added that the lack of sympathy shown by local authorities may also deepen the concerns of insecurity for mainland tourists at a time when cross-Straits relations are at a low point.
Tsai sent a condolence inscription to the memorial service of Cheng Kun-wen, the Taiwan tour guide killed in the incident, yet failed to do so for the 24 mainland tourists. In her defense, officials claimed they didn’t receive such requests.
Statistics released by the island’s tourism bureau recorded a decline of onethird in the number of tourists in May and early June compared with last year.
In an interview with China Review News Agency, Wu Ying-Liang, chairman of Kaohsiung Association of Travel Agents, claimed a “60 to 70 percent” decrease in tourists from the mainland in recent months compared to last year.
The government described the fire as an “isolated” incident that must not be allowed to undermine cross-Straits tourism. It was the government’s policy to open the doors to tourists from the mainland, and it would continue to improve the quality and safety of cross-Straits tourism, the island’s Mainland Affairs Council said.