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Rescued passengers on board the Pattani  after this week's storm

Mass Storm Rescue Costs Navy As Tour Operators Put on 'Freak' Show

Thursday, April 18, 2013
News Analysis

PHUKET: A spokesperson for the Royal Thai Navy suggested today that tour operators needed to monitor weather forecasts more closely before putting to sea in bad weather.

His comments mirrored those of Phuket Governor Maitree Intusut after one of the largest mass rescues in memory off Phuket. It could so easily have been a disaster for Thailand's tourism industry.

A severe storm that had been forecast a week in advance sank one live-aboard vessel and trapped more than 400 passengers from about a dozen other vessels, mostly speedboats, on a remote island.

Sailing to the rescue, the Thai Navy patrol boat Pattani scored rave reviews from most passengers for providing hot food and warmth - and a safe voyage back to the mainland coast at Tablamu, north of Phuket.

Some day-trip passengers have since told Phuketwan that before boarding a speedboat on Monday, they questioned whether it was safe to put to sea. A tour operator told them:

''Sorry, there can be no refunds. Everything is going to be ok. Just take some seasick pills.''

Reports that this was some ''freak storm'' are far from accurate. The bad weather had been forecast for days.

Many boats put to sea from Phuket and the province of Phang Nga to the north with the people in charge of passengers' safety knowing exceptionally bad weather was predicted to arrive that afternoon.

It did. Oh how it did. The dive boat Joaying (Little Princess) went swiftly to the bottom and other boats braved the wind and rain to rescue all 25 passengers and crew.

Plucked from the sea were two Thais and divers from Britain, Sweden, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, Singapore, Austria, Japan and Spain.

Meanwhile, the tourist vessels that took a chance on the forecasts being wrong sheltered at Tachai. The hundreds of tourists could have been stranded in difficult conditions there for days if the Royal Thai Navy had not sent HTMS Pattani on its mission.

The bedraggled tourists encountered by Phuketwan's reporting team at 3.30am on Tuesday morning were immensely grateful to be safe.

Rumors were circulating yesterday that tour agents who let their customers go to sea on Monday would be made by the Royal Thai Navy to pay the bill.

Not such a bad idea under the circumstances, but not correct, Captain Thammawat Malaisukkarin, of the Naval Civil Affairs Directorate, said today.

''There have been some murmurings about where the money for the rescue is coming from,'' he said. ''But the Navy is not seeking compensation.

''As well as patrolling the seas and guarding Thailand's borders, protecting residents and tourists is something we do.''

He added that the rescue voyage would have not been necessary if the tour company boats that took to the water had taken notice of weather forecasts.

''They shouldn't have taken the tourists far out to sea if they knew that the storm was coming,'' he said. ''They shouldn't be selfish and greedy and only care about the money.''

Honorary consuls on Phuket have recommended a harbormaster system be established so that a responsible official makes the decision on whether boats go to sea, not people who are keen to make money each day if possible.

Phuketwan has been told by tourists that refunds are difficult to come by from trip operators.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


No need to post this, but to save your blushes the pic you've used seems to be of the HTMS Similan, not the Pattani.

Posted by Alasdair on April 18, 2013 17:27

Editor Comment:

Thanks . . . our picture and graphics editor is rushing to correct the error.


The forecast told about rough conditions for that day. Nevertheless you could see speed boats going out with 30 and more passengers squeezed like in a nut shell. People got stranded somewhere and the same operators run trips again the day after. Responsibility = Zero ! Greed = 100 !!

Posted by Resident on April 18, 2013 17:54


Hey, come to Thailand, you can rent any motorbike that in any competent jurisdiction would need a license and minimum age for, you can go out sightseeing every day of the year even when massive storms are forecast and can on both occasions experience the local greed. No refunds is our way here and in most cases with few exceptions if you have an accident in either pursuit you are on your own to pay the bill.

Posted by Fiesty Farang on April 18, 2013 18:02


Back home, back country hikers and skiers are financially responsible for their rescues if they need it. So why not here? Those are private citizens, not companies that are responsible for people. Sending them a bill only makes sense. Speed boats over charge divers needing evac for recompression, so why not the other way around?

Posted by NomadJoe on April 18, 2013 18:41


A shame the Navy can't present the bill for the rescue to those who needlessly put people's lives in danger. Maybe they would think twice next time. Oops there's me being optimistic, not pessimistic - I promise to try harder.

Posted by Mister Ree on April 18, 2013 19:22


''They shouldn't be selfish and greedy and only care about the money.''
Perhpas that statement fits the tourists just as much. Board a small boat in dangerous weather because you can't get a refund? Ok then.

Posted by MadMike on April 18, 2013 19:26

Editor Comment:

Tourists usually trust the people responsible for their welfare, people such as airline pilots and cruise ship captains. The problem is that Andaman-region boat ''captains'' and tour operators can't always be trusted in the same way. To accuse the tourists of caring only about money is blaming the victims. I am sure there are tourists who do sacrifice the money, but that only makes the ''Andaman attitude'' even worse.


Respectfully disagree with your interpretation of where personal responsibility for ones own safety ends.
Compare a small speedboat to a cruise ship or airliner for presumed safe travel? Ok then. Hop on board until maybe you see whitecaps breaking over the bow, then maybe refuse to board.

Posted by MadMike on April 18, 2013 19:53

Editor Comment:

The bond between trusting tourist and responsible provider is plain. Suffer a setback or two, and the destination becomes tainted with something worse than bird flu: distrust. It's a simple equation, MM. Nothing else adds up.


Would be far too ambitious to believe that the boat drivers, or as they are called here , captains, would understand or even listen to weather forecasts or outright warnings, so forget about that.

Suggest that PW check up on their education level, would not be surprised if most have just had up to M6 or even less education. Introduce a real education for Captains where they learn about safety and meteorology and make it mandatory before they get the responsibility for both boat and it's passengers.
And until that happen then the Directors of the Tour companies should be held responsible for any mishaps.

Posted by Sailor on April 18, 2013 20:13

Editor Comment:

Education levels have nothing to do with it, Sailor. The money trail makes plain who is responsible for near-disasters, and disasters.
I witnessed the bodies from the Dive Asia sinking being brought back to the surface in 2009. Easy access to reasonably accurate weather forecasts has become simple for everyone since then. If this kind of needless incident is repeated, putting many lives and Thailand's reputation at risk for the sake of a few baht, Phuketwan will do its best to name every tour company and speedboat ''captain'' involved. Any foreigner connected to a needless disaster or near-disaster will be up there, too - in capital letters.


Even basic seamanship and common sense tells you not to set sail when storm warnings are forecast. The boat owners and 'Captains'? must be made accountable for this sheer lunacy. Would it be too much to ask if the port authorities be handed powers to stop these boats setting to sea?

Posted by Mick.s on April 18, 2013 23:02


"PhuketWan will do its best to name every tour company and speedboat ''captain'' involved "

Amen to that. Can we please start by listing the names and operators of the speed and dive boats that got stuck in Similans this time around.

Check those at Honeymoon and Donald Duck bay too, not just Koh Ta Chai. Many of the stranded passengers are likely to have photos of those boats.


Posted by Stephen on April 18, 2013 23:35


Lots of finger pointing and at faults here, nothing new for the Diving & Speedboat industries here in Phuket to be greedy that's just their nature it's what they do. It's a short season.
But ultimately two people are at fault, The official captain (if there is such a thing) of the vessel and the customer.
Would you embark on one of these trips knowing that the weather forecast was unfavorable?
Hats off to the Thai Navy for their efforts GANG MAAAK.

Posted by Jimmy Rawai on April 19, 2013 01:43


It's amazing nobody was killed. If the Navy is not demanding reimbursement, perhaps the tour operators could refund the tour price to the passengers.

Posted by fw on April 19, 2013 06:00


Attempting to survive by making a small profit in the dive business because of strong competition has already been cited as one reason that safety is compromised (william). If a company/operator is afraid of competition then he has an inferior product, simple as that. There are some good operators and there are bad operators who take the view that ''storms are usually mild and shrugged off''. It is these sorts of operators who put selfish greed before people's safety that should be named. Tourists don't know one from the other so, like hotels, airlines, cruise ships etc, dive operators should have a rating system of sorts. I commend "PhuketWan will do its best to name every tour company and speedboat ''captain'' involved " and will be interested to see the list.

Posted by Pete on April 19, 2013 08:44


Hopefully the Navy will make sure the tour operators who took out people despite warnings will pay for the rescue effort. Paying for greed, might change the attitude next time weather is bad.

Posted by wm on April 19, 2013 10:28


It was lucky the navy had such a large ship in the area, or do they always? In weather conditions like that they could have experienced many emergencies. The same will happen again.

Posted by Fiesty Farang on April 19, 2013 10:29

Editor Comment:

The good ship Pattani had only just returned from a lengthy voyage on patrol.


Of course lack of education is a big part of most problems in Phuket and elsewhere in Thailand, combine that with greed then you have a dangerous cocktail. Weather forecasts were readily available before the dive boat accident and to imply that they first became available after is incorrect.
Much could be achieved by educating the captains because as regulations are then there is only one person responsible for a ship it's cargo and personel, and that is the captain, that's the way it is here and in the rest of the world. If it is not safe then the captain must say NO. If companies are pressurizing captains to venture out in dangerous weather conditions then these companies must be reported and punished after the country's laws.

Posted by Sailor on April 19, 2013 12:53

Editor Comment:

Perhaps I misinterpreted your initial comment. Some of the most skilled sailors and ''captains'' in the world have had little or no no formal education, but regulations and obedience are certainly required.


A spokesperson for the Royal Thai Navy suggested today that tour operators needed to monitor weather forecasts more closely before putting to sea in bad weather.

This will be a previously unconsidered revelation to some tour boat operators.

Posted by slickmelb on April 20, 2013 00:31

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