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Sinking survivor Mike Sampson has his name ticked off

Dive Disaster: Governor Acts on Water Safety

Thursday, April 9, 2009
Phuketwan Update

MARINE Office Director Vichai Khumkhong, responsible for licencing and registration of vessels across all six Andaman provinces, made surprise checks on vessels at Chalong and Rassada on Friday. Officers found nothing amiss in the boats that were checked.

THE Governor of Phuket, Wichai Praisa-Ngob, today acknowledged the need for improved safety on the seas around the island and announced a new 24-hour emergency call number: 1669.

Timed for the Songkran holiday with the main aim of preventing road mishaps, the emergency call number is also targeted at dealing with incidents at sea.

While not specifically mentioning last month's MV Dive Asia 1 disaster in which seven people died, the Governor emphasised the importance of protecting tourists at sea.

He said the Phuket Public Health Department would answer calls made to the 1669 number. At their disposal would be two Royal Thai Navy helicopters and one police helicopter.

Three Marine Police boats would also be ready to react.

He told captains of all boats taking tourists out to sea to first call to check the weather forecast and to make sure that every passenger has a lifejacket.

''I believe that we won't have any mishaps at sea this month as the weather changes,'' he said. ''Just trust me.''

He said that while he was Governor of Phang Nga last year, there was a large, long storm and 200 people on a ferry were endangered.

The Royal Thai Navy boat that went to the rescue even had difficulties because the waves were so tall.

''It was fortunate that nobody died,'' he said.

The people were stuck on the boat for four days, most of that time without food or water, he said.

Phuket needed a good marine safety centre and the emergency hotline was a start, he said.

Fifty-two groups have joined together to organise a network to help in a crisis on the seas or the roads of Phuket, he added.

Inquiries by Phuketwan about the sinking of the MV Dive Asia 1 have exposed major flaws in regulations that should protect everyone on large vessels off Phuket, especially those designed to carry tourists.

The unacceptable delays in authorities learning of the sinking and in rescuing the survivors have established the need for automatic electronic warning systems to be more widely used.

While many members of the Phuket yachting community understand the critical need for these kinds of devices, they are not required on most vessels that carry large numbers of passengers around Phuket.

After the MV Dive Asia 1 went down there was no automatic radio emergency signal, so nobody new for another nine hours that a major disaster had taken place.

And because there was no directional radio device on the two liferaft, the 23 survivors were left to organise their own rescue, within sight of Patong.

Survivors flashed a mirror at a fishing boat, borrowed a fisherman's mobile telephone, and called in rescuers to their position.

Royal Navy and Marine Police vessels are large, and built to withstand heavy seas, but not ideal for a quick reaction in an emergency.

The Royal Navy vessels are based in Phang Nga. When the alarm was eventually raised, Royal Navy officers decided to double-check first to make sure it was not a hoax call.

For reasons that have yet to be revealed, they opted not to send up a helicopter.

In broad daylight, a helicopter would have quickly been able to survey the dive boat's regular route back from the Similan islands to Chalong pier.

If a helicopter had been used in the search, the hunt probably would have been over within an hour.

Instead, the 23 survivors were left to bob at sea off Patong and had to organise their own rescue.

The Marine Police, having been alerted by the survivors' telephone call to Dive Asia, eventually dispatched a vessel to pick them up.

The survivors arrived back at Phuket's deep sea port about 4.30pm on the afternoon after the sinking, having spent many unnecessary extra hours on the water.

If some of them had been seriously injured, or if the storm had continued to rage, the lives of 23 tourists and crew would have been further endangered.

Phuketwan maintains that a complete review of emergency systems and weather warnings is required if Phuket hopes to convince tourists they are safe at sea in the Andaman region.

The question of whether this type of high-to-the-wind dive boat can safely handle the relatively regular storms off Phuket also requires a proper answer.

The governor also pointed out the need for safety on the roads over Songkran.

This year, special brochures have been issued in English so expats can also understand the need for caution.

Police checkpoints are being set up and water festival dousing areas will be at Patong beach, Saphan Hin, Rawai beach, Cape Promthep viewpoint, Kata beach, Karon beach, Suan Luang Park in Phuket City, Nai Yang beach and Surin beach.

Phuketwan on Safety at Sea

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Phuketwan on Safety at Songkran

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Latest Tourists will still be able to drink alcohol during the three-day Songkran festival from April 12-15, and so will locals. A proposed ban has been rejected.
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Songkran Water Festival, April 12-13
Wet and even wilder than usual, with the special release of 209 turtles: that's the Songkran water festival on Phuket with events scheduled all over the island, especially at the beach resorts.
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