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One of the 24 rescued tourists who were brought to Phuket today

'We Almost Drowned': Phuket Tourist Tells of Nightmare on Sinking Speedboat

Monday, August 27, 2012
PHUKET: An Australian man who was on the sinking speedboat off the Thai holiday island of Phi Phi today told tonight of his family's lucky escape and criticised the condition of the vessel.

As the speedboat sank in a storm, Hakan Ergun, 38, cradled his two-year-old daughter Sena in his arms and feared they were both going to die.

''I had to kick myself free as the boat went down,'' he said. ''I thought it was the end. My daughter and I actually went under the water but luckily we surfaced.''

Mr Ergun, on the island-to-island day trip from Phuket to Phi Phi and back with his wife Zuhal, 33, and their other daughter, Beyza, eight, is from Sydney.

He added: ''The boat and the crew were hopeless.

''The lifejackets weren't really life jackets at all. There were buckles missing and it was a miracle everyone stayed afloat.

''The captain and the crew, they had no idea whatesoever. It was every man for himself.''

A total of 37 passengers were on the Phuket to Phi Phi island-to-island tour, along with a Thai guide and three crew.

Phuketwan understands that 12 rescued passengers - the four members of the Ergun family, two Turkish people, two Kuwaitis, two Koreans and two New Zealanders - are staying on Phi Phi and will return to Phuket tomorrow.

A Phuketwan reporter spoke with Mr Ergun by telephone late tonight.

Another 24 rescued passengers were brought back to Phuket today by speedboat. Most of them are thought to be Chinese, although there were a handful of European tourists among them.

Several were taken to Phuket International Hospital in Phuket City for examination and possible admission.

Today's near tragedy is likely to bring to a head concerns that the captains of speedboats on Phuket are allowed to venture out to sea even on days when experts say it's too dangerous.

Phuket speedboats are also seldom checked for safety and the authorities take a casual approach to risks.

Mr Ergun said tonight: ''We were clearly in trouble and everybody was terrified. There was no gps, no radio. The standards are appalling.''

Mr Ergun said the family and the other passengers were on an island-to-island day trip from Phuket to Phi Phi and after lunch at the Bora Bora restaurant on Phi Phi, the plan was to go to another small island.

''Because it was so rough, we all wanted to go straight back to Phuket,'' he said. ''But the boat wasn't up to it.''

He said he thought there was another Australian family on the boat.

''I really thought my number was up,'' he said. ''We were probably in the water for about 15 minutes.

''When a small boat came close, it looked as though they were going away without us. Then I cried 'Baby! Baby! and they came back. They saved us from drowning.''

He said safety standards on the boat and the care shown by the crew was ''shocking.''

A spokesman for the Chao Fa Krabi Rescue Centre, who helped rescue everyone on board, said: ''I am very surprised that any kind of small boat was on the water in this weather.''

Weather warnings were issued today advising small boats not to venture out. It's believed some boat captains opt to make money despite the risks.

The alarm today was raised by a village chief on Phi Phi who saw the speedboat was having trouble off the holiday island in a violent storm.

He alerted authorities. Two local speedboats, the Andaman Beach and the Mareehuanna, went to the rescue of the vessel.

Meanwhile, other calls were made to the Phuket Marine Police and to the Chao Fa Krabi Rescue Centre.

Responding despite the high waves and driving storm, the vessels managed to pluck all the passengers and crew from the sea.

Details of what happened on board the stricken vessel are likely to emerge tomorrow as the rescued passengers give their accounts.

The Ergun family and the other passengers on Phi Phi are expected back on Phuket early tomorrow.

Phuketwan helped the Koreans, who were due to fly out from Phuket International Airport tonight, to change their booking to an alternative flight at 2am on Wednesday.

Children were also on board a speedboat that sank off Phuket in January this year that terrifed them and the other passengers, most of them Australians.

January is the so-called high season in the Phuket-Phi Phi region when weather conditions are expected to be better than in August, the middle of the stormy monsoon season.

In March 2009, a diving boat capsized in a storm off Phuket. Six tourists and the Thai cook drowned. Twenty-three were rescued.

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Will anything Mr Ergun said about this incident be acted upon by the authorities? After reading of all the other incidents listed in your article that'll be a NO then. Is anyone in charge here or do we have to wait till body bags with drowned kids are splashed across the world's media before action is ever taken by the authorities?

Posted by Scunner on August 28, 2012 06:59

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Does Mr Ergun take any responsibilty for going to sea in bad weather or for not checking if the boat was safe for his family. NO it is everyone fault but he accepts no responsibilty for his lack of common sense.

Posted by Arthur on August 28, 2012 08:05

Editor Comment:

Mr Ergun has just gone through a terrifying experience in which he feared for the lives of his wife, his two young children and himself. You don't appear to understand the level of trauma involved. Tourists are inclined to trust the judgement of boat captains who supposedly know and take heed of weather forecast for the region, just as they trust authorities to make sure they are safe at all times. Blaming the victims is never an appropriate response.

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Will it be possible, when this kind of accidents happens, to have the name of the boat operator?
If this kind of information was out, it would probably put out of business many unscrupulous operators and may be a good reminder for those who take safety lightly to think twice before taking risks.
Thank you

Posted by Lucien on August 28, 2012 08:13

Editor Comment:

Our aim is to have the government and its officers reform Phuket so that safety standards are lifted to international levels and enforced. Who is at fault here? The tour agent, the boat's captain, the tourists? We'd prefer to see safety improved and enforced. Naming, blaming and shaming seldom does a scrap of good.

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Mr. Editor...Back where I come from (USA) we have rules and regulations regarding taking paid passengers on board. As a captain of a vessel for hire I am required at a MINIMUM to have what is called a 'six pack' license. That allows me to take six paying individuals, 150 miles off shore. I am totally responsible for all on board.I am required to maintain my vessel in TOTAL working order and have as many working life jackets on board as there are people, paying or otherwise.My vessel is inspected by the US Coast Guard each year.If I fail to meet the required expectations, which, by the way are basic common sense issues, I can be heavily fined.If anything happens to any individual on my vessel I can not only be fined, but lose my license, be fined and go to JAIL, never to obtain another license again. I am sure this is not the first time Mr. Ergun has been on the water. It is ALSO his responsibility to asses, not only the condition of the vessel,l but ASK TO SEE THE CAPTAINS CREDENTIALS...I have no problem showing my passengers my papers when asked.In fact it is required in Western civilized countries, that your credentials be posted in a conspicuous location.Thailand may have some rules about SOME things...If they are not enforced then there are no rules at all.Then, sadly, I am reminded that this is not a Western country, nor is very intelligent.

Posted by Ted Davis on August 28, 2012 10:40

Editor Comment:

I am not sure what you are trying to say, Ted, but you are certainly not saying it very well. Tourists seldom check the credentials of their airline pilots or their bank managers, nor are they expected to check whether their resorts are legal or whether a boat captain knows what he is doing. There are laws and officials who are supposed to uphold them, in your country as well as this one.

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Poor standards of boats, greedy and reckless tour operators and irresponsible boat crews are one thing.

But parents taking 2 and 8 year old children under yesterday's weather conditions on a relatively long speed boat trip, for my understanding are out of mind. It was a risk riding in a car over the island (what I had to do myself ) but venturing the sea in a nutshell should have been the last thing, people with at least a little bit of common sense should have done.

Posted by Resident on August 28, 2012 11:12

Editor Comment:

You're 20 years behind the times. These days, young families travel with children and expect the authorities in the countries they visit to uphold their country's laws. The visitors are enticed by brochures, websites and good prices to come to Phuket at this time of the year. There are no health warnings on Phuket packages. Readers who give it more than a moment's thought realise that blaming the victims is just what some officials try to do.

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Dear editor,
Often read your comments and had my thoughts.
This time your remarks show that you are well thinking.
I agree, if there are rules, they should be followed, both by officials and businesspeople.
But please use common sense yourself as well, when you are up to something.

Posted by Inpo on August 28, 2012 12:23

Editor Comment:

Phuketwan is always up to something, Inpo.

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Dear Editor,

Having only last week been to Phi Phi on a similar boat, this news article jumped out at me.

I'm sure there may be shonky tour operators out there but not all are. The crew from our tour took the trip safety seriously. We were sitting near the captain during rough seas and can assure you he took great efforts and concentration in reading the water. Our propellor was entangled with stray fishing net and the crew quickly and efficiently dealt with the problem.

As for Thai inspections, during a trip a few days earlier to James Bond Island, they came to see all was OK. The crew member paddling our canoe said these inspections happened every day. I doubt tour operators here in Australia would face the same level of scrutiny.

I'm sure we were very lucky to not have such freak waves that the recent trip encountered. Sometimes freak accidents just happen. Pleased to hear all were rescued.

Posted by Anonymous on August 28, 2012 19:41

Editor Comment:

When a boat holes and sinks it reflects poorly on the good operators. When boats put to sea in conditions that are dangerous, ignoring warnings, it reflects on all of Phuket. A system needs to be put in place to make sure that all boats are well-maintained and that none put to sea on dangerous days. There is no such things as ''an accident.'' Please put a name on your comments, otherwise they have little or no authority.

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Dear Editor,
young families and any other traveller however never should lose common sense, wherever they go to and whatever they are doing.
I am not defending irresponsibility on any site but very often tourist's behavior when abroad is just foolish and people do things, I believe they never would do at home.
I would be pleased if you would consider this as well. And this has nothing to do with being 20 years behind of time, but with staying out of trouble as much as possible because of using the brain..

Posted by Resident on August 29, 2012 11:15

Editor Comment:

Are you still blaming the victims, Resident? What's your solution to the issue? Stop the tourists from coming, or stop the boats from going out on dangerous days? Only the ''protect me'' mechanism part of your brain seems to be working today.

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Dear Editor,
English doesn't seem to be our common language today, but what about this:

Stopping boats from going out in bad weather would be the most logical thing. All boats and captains should be licensed and boats be equipped according to international safety standards. Obviously this isn't possible at this certain moment, for whatever reason.

At this point. at least according to my understanding, everyone MUST use common sense to keep hisself and maybe friends and familiy safe.

Nowhere around the world you can just trust law and law enforcement, though in some places more, in others less.

Posted by Resident on August 29, 2012 12:16


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