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Business is good for Patong jet-ski operators but not for everyone

Navy Leads Beach Raid: Photo Special

Tuesday, September 8, 2015
PHUKET: A Royal Thai Navy patrol led a surprise raid on Phuket's Patong beach today to catch illegal vendors or snare salespeople acting outside the new rules.

With some irony, the raid came on the day the tranfer of Governor Nisit Jansomwong become public with his replacement, former Phuket vice governor Jamleran Tipayapongtada, now the man to decide the fate of Phuket's beaches soon after October 1.

It will not be easy.

Today's combined raid deploying the Royal Thai Navy, the Army's Internal Security Operations Command, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation and Kathu District officials took place without the knowledge of the Mayor of Patong or Patong Municipal officers.

Local council enforcement officials turned up soon enough, though, alerted by vendors to the raid.

Clearly, disputes continue about what the rules should be and who should enforce them.

The Navy delegation was told that the rows of umbrellas and mats stretched out along the beach, with the sand piled up to make a rough pillow, was what Patong Mayor Chalermlak Kebsub believed was the best interpretation of Governor Nisit's ''10 percent'' rule.

Under the departing governor's experiment, 10 percent of each Phuket beach is supposed to be the limit of commercial activity.

However, there's only supposed to be a single umbrella and mat on each beach advertising services, unless tourists are already on them.

Debate also continues over a report by Prince of Songkhla University researchers that challenges some of the governor's assumptions about what tourists want.

Phuketwan reporters watched the raid in progress on Patong today and came to the same old conclusion: nothing is going to change unless there is proper management and enforcement.

The university researchers have at least proposed a sensible management plan - taking the local councils out of their present role.

It's also Phuketwan's view that the ''10 percent'' concept cannot hope to work during high season, when hundreds of tourists will want space of their own under an umbrella on Patong and other popular beaches.

The idea might succeed at Phuket's least popular beaches. But a much better idea is to ban all commerce and let tourists bring their own umbrellas and chairs at all beaches.

Vendors were told today that the Navy raid was the last warning they will have.

The next raid will be serious and enforce the regulations.

Today, Patong remained a chaotic place, with motorcycles being ridden along the footpath and parasailers taking out as much space as their beach business demands.

The only remaining question is, of course, precisely what those regulations will be when the new governor decides what should happen.

What was blatantly obvious today was that the jet-ski operators now control Patong beach, once one of the island's premier swimming destinations.

To see jet-skis parked under the trees and on the sand was to know who rules this beach.

To watch as one jet-ski then another zipped parallel along the beach close to shore only warned us - if nobody else - of the injuries and fatalities that are likely to come unless jet-skis are banned from Phuket, as they have been in neighboring Krabi and Phang Nga provinces.

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