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Karon, tranquil and child-friendly but not during the monsoon season

Fishermen Swept from Rocks Near Patong

Tuesday, September 8, 2009
THE BODY of a fisherman, swept from rocks near Patong on Sunday, is expected to be carried back to shore by the rising tide over the next 48 hours.

The man, Wason Wannasopa, 26, was swept off rocks at Freedom beach on Sunday morning. His disappearance was not reported to police until Monday.

A second fisherman, Krong Kotrongtong, 30, was also swept off the rocks but managed to regain land.

He was badly injured and treated as an in-patient at Patong Hospital before being discharged.

The dead man's wife, Pat, 27, was looking on from the safety of the beach when the two were swept away. All are from Kathu.

Fishermen on the rocks around the island are just as exposed to extreme monsoon weather conditions as swimmers on the island's popular beaches.

Drownings appear to have become commonplace on Phuket during the so-called ''Summer'' season, with deaths being reported virtually every weekend.

Resort Island's Hidden Danger

A version of this article appeared in the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong on Sunday, September 6

''DO YOU want to die?'' the frustrated lifeguard shouted as tourists paddled on, oblivious to his warnings, at Phuket's Karon Beach.

There was an understandable note of urgency to the lifeguard's voice. At least seven swimmers - most of them foreign tourists - have drowned at Karon in recent weeks, out of 10 in the Phuket region.

Yet only last month, Karon Beach was hailed as the fourth-most-child-friendly beach in the world, according to a list by Lonely Planet travel guides cited by Reuters.

The accolade came as Phuket's travel industry this year decided to promote the region's attractions during the summer season - better known as the wet season to most locals. But Karon, like many other Phuket beaches, has another visitor in summer - deadly monsoonal rip currents that make the waters treacherous.

The latest victim was 32-year-old Russian Alexander Lukin, who vanished in the surf on August 30, one day after arriving on holiday.

Tourists from Denmark, Britain, Latvia and Turkey, as well as Thais, have also died at Karon and nearby beaches in the past few months, despite warning signs and attempts to improve lifeguard services.

''Please get out of the water!'' shouted the lifeguard at Karon just hours after the Russian vanished.

Yet whistles and waves do not deter tourists who have paid for a low-season holiday on Phuket and intend to swim - despite the red warning flags now planted at the water's edge along the entire four kilometre beach.

The warnings from lifesaving authorities are at odds with the intensive attempts to attract tourists to Phuket in summer.

The summerinphuket.com website promotes Karon Beach as ''usually very quiet and surprisingly private''.

Watthain Patsonwatnawong, secretary of the Phuket Provincial Administrative Organisation (PPAO), which oversees the island, said Karon Beach appeared to be more dangerous at this time of the year. But he also said there was a problem with tourists who could not speak English or Thai.

In the case of the Russian who drowned, Khun Watthain said the man and his friends had been drinking and were not prepared to listen to warnings.

''If there are 100 tourists on the beach, we can only help 98 per cent for now,'' he said. ''Some refuse to be helped.''

The PPAO this year engaged a lifeguard company to protect people on all Phuket beaches.''
''Four-star and five-star resorts have their own lifeguards and they join in with training," he said.

''None of us are happy when tourists come to Phuket and drown.''

Larry Cunningham, owner of the Chava Resort at another popular west coast beach, Surin, said: ''We are warning all our guests against swimming anywhere except the resort pool, and telling them not to be misled by claims of 'summer'.''

Among recent victims was Briton James Patton, 21, who was the third tourist to drown at Karon in two days in June. His pregnant girlfriend, Bethan Jones, saw two other Britons recued, and her boyfriend's body brought back to the beach. He was described by his family as very fit and a strong swimmer.

His sister Charlotte told the Surrey Advertiser newspaper that the rip currents were common knowledge locally, but not to tourists. She blasted the Thai authorities.

''To know his life could so easily have been spared makes our loss even more difficult to comprehend,'' she told the paper. ''How can the local authorities turn a blind eye to such a dangerous and unstoppable threat to human life?''

Local authorities do not release comprehensive figures about drownings at Phuket's beaches, but at least four people are known to have drowned at Karon this month, and seven in the past two months.

By comparison, the surf rescue service in Queensland, one of Australia's largest states and home to some of the world's busiest beaches, this year reported no drownings in the three months of the southern-hemisphere summer.

Jayne MacDougall is director of risk management and loss prevention at Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort, which sits alongside a smaller beach near Karon and has its own trained lifeguards.

''We had a guest recently who went for a swim even though the beach was officially closed,'' she said. ''Two of our lifeguards almost died in rescuing him ... anyone who goes in above their knees at this time of the year needs to be very careful.''

She added: ''People will usually swim where others are already in the water, and so it's not unusual to have a group of people suddenly find themselves in trouble.''

Her solution would be to set aside specially marked areas at each beach where rip currents are not running and trained lifeguards can offer adequate protection.

The mother of British victim James Patton, Lynn Creasey, said: ''Out of all the people we know who have travelled to Thailand [and that is many], not one person was aware of the dangers.''

She said her son was not informed of the rip currents on the day he died, and she was told that red flags were only posted on the beach after his body was taken from the water. ''It is taking all the strength we can muster to try to do something, anything in fact, to try to raise awareness to any person travelling to the beautiful shores of Thailand.''

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Saturday August 8, 2020
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa

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