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Pick your Phi Phi potion: Bucket loads of fun getting wasted in all sizes

Phi Phi's Killer Cocktail in a Bucket: Time for Health Officials to Explain Death Riddle

Saturday, September 1, 2012
News Analysis

PHUKET: Fresh revelations about insecticide being the cause of the deaths of Canadian sisters Audrey and Noemi Belanger should force authorites in Thailand to release whatever information they are holding.

It's been three months since Audrey, 20, and Noemi, 26, died a horrible death from a toxic substance while holidaying on the popular tourist destination of Phi Phi, just a ferry ride from Phuket.

Phuketwan yesterday revealed that an investigating police officer said the sisters' bodies contained insecticide. By day's end, a Canadian news organisation confirmed that an official autopsy report names DEET, a ''potentially neurotoxic mosquito repellent.''

How the chemical got into the bodies of the sisters has yet to be established, but the CBC television report suggested that the poison was most likely in a ''euphoria-inducing cocktail.''

Cocktail? Well, not quite. It's the habit of Phi Phi visitors, mostly 20-somethings out for a good time, to drink their cocktails by the bucketful - literally - on Phi Phi when enjoying their fun and making the round from venue to venue.

What goes into the individual person's bucket depends on their taste, as does the size of the bucket. The contents are usually sucked through a straw.

The CBC report is correct, however, in that some versions of the buckets could contain ''cough syrup, Coke, DEET and ground up kratom leaves, which are a mild narcotic indigenous to Thailand.''

Buckets, as Phi Phi residents know, can hold virtually any liquid. Local hospital doctors and nurses vouch for the dangerous outcome of some big nights out with buckets.

Police said that after the sisters' bodies were discovered by a maid in a resort room in June that they found no signs of foul play. But that can hardly remain true if what the sisters were drinking a couple of nights earlier was contaminated with a killer chemical.

The deaths of the sisters has inevitably been linked to the still-unsolved deaths of American Jill St Ongle and Norwegian Jule Bergheim on Phi Phi in 2009 and to a series of deaths in the Thai city of Chiang Mai last year.

Bad publicity forced Thai health authorites to reveal as much as they could about the death of New Zealander Sarah Carter, 23, and the other Chiang Mai victims.

Pressure to absolve Phi Phi's tourism industry is likely to now force the Thai authorities to be just as open about the four deaths on Phi Phi, which is one of the jewels in the crowd of Thai tourism.

A CBC journalist based yesterday's television report on a sighting of the first autopsy report, in Bangkok.

A second autopsy is said to have take place on the Belangers in Montreal, before the sisters were buried, but the final results from that examination could take months.

While it's possible that the sisters could have consumed the insecticide in a drink, it's also possible that the chemical was ingested in some other way.

All options remain open - unless the pathologists who performed the autopsy and the extensive tests that usually follow are able to say with certainty how the pesticide entered the sisters' bodies.

Any judgements in the case of the Belanger sisters are likely to be greeted by a call to reopen the casebooks on the earlier Phi Phi and Chiang Mai deaths.

The appalling tragedy of the Belanger sisters highlights yet again the need for Thai authorities to act fast and with absolute transparency in probing the deaths of tourists in Thailand.

Speedy action and updating reports on the deaths of all foreigners in Thailand was promised after the Chinag Mai fatalities. The Belanger case proves an international-quality response has yet to be delivered.

Lack of information from Thai officials has now cast a pall of doubt over Phi Phi tourism. It should be lifted as fast as possible by the country's health experts.

The Belanger sister's father, Carl, forced to wait three months for information that has now come not from official sources but via Phuketwan and CBC, is upset.

He told another Canadian news outlet that he would like a more thorough investigation, especially considering the similar deaths on Phi Phi in 2009.

Mr Belanger told QMI Agency in June that he deplored the way Thai authorities handled the case, calling police work ''corrupt'' and ''rotten.''

Mr Belanger said then that the investigation took too long and there was little communication between Thai authorities and the family.

Since the reports about the insecticide, Mr Belanger has told The Canadian Press that he is convinced his daughters did not know what they were consuming.

He says two other young people from Quebec spent time with his daughters and told him they all drank alcohol together.

Mr Belanger now wants a full inquiry. So do we.

Comments

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This report is a prime example of why free and independent media is crucial to any society that aspires to be a democracy.

It will hopefully result in increased public safety and at the very least, give a warning to those heading out to Phi-Phi, Ko Phangngan etc of the possible dangers.

I'm sure it's also a relief to the victims families to see someone is pressuring the authorities to take responsibility. Their stall tactics are well known to anyone living in Thailand.

However knowing how the tourism reputation is protected at any cost, including covering up deaths, I would not be surprised if the authorities still refuse to be open and upfront.

If it is confirmed that tourists are being poisoned in Thailand, either accidentally or on purpose, and above all that the authorities knew this but did not release the information so travellers could take precautions, one can expect a huge backlash from the international community.

Suddenly all the confirmed and unconfirmed stories about spiked drinks in Phuket and elsewhere gain a lot more credibility too.

What is painfully lacking is a proper and professional, unbiased response from the authorities.

Once again - an international tourist destination with total disregard and apparent contempt for international safety and justice standards.

To imagine things can continue as usual by just pretending everything is ok and nothing bad happened is a pipe dream.

Poisoned, burned to death, hit by a speed boat etc. When is anyone going to be held responsible ?

Words like "Patong safety zone" have a distinctly hollow ring to them in light of the recent incidents and accidents.

Window dressing does NOT cut it anymore.

Posted by Andrew on September 1, 2012 11:42

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Thailand, unfortunately, due to lax controls is one of the few countries where banned pest control substances such as DDT, Dieldrin, Thallium and Chlorpyrifos (allegedly used at the Downtown Inn, Chiang Mai) are still in common use, and readily available ''off the shelf'' in some places. Although DEET is considered highly toxic it is still possibly the most used mosquito repellent and should be used with care. There are natural non toxic remedies that are just as effective.
Lemongrass is probably the least known but most effective non toxic mosquito repellent presently available. When distilled, the oil is known as citronella. It is available in candle form, oil for burning, as an aerosol spray or cream. As lemongrass is so plentiful here you can easily produce it at home with a simple steam distillation kit. (Dilute the oil to 5% before applying to the skin).
Be careful not to purchase citronella oil as cosmetic, essential oil or perfume as they are around 80 times the price of basic citronella.
Compounds containing Boric acid are a safe way to control/kill termites, cockroaches, ants etc. but in my opinion are seldom used in Thailand.

Posted by Pete on September 1, 2012 13:47

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Andrew...unfortunately, it appears that the urgency to do anything about taking responsibility and doing something formidible is not that great as long as tourist arrival numbers continue to climb...Only will something be done once people stop coming and foreign money stops pouring in.....Maybe when the money stops, authorities will finally feel a need to do something...Thats how things work here...and its sad!

Posted by sky on September 1, 2012 13:58

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For years I've heard that some people mix ground up mosquito coils into a brew of kratom. I've never seen it drunk in person but every person I've asked says it is true and it was mainly done in the far south by Muslims. The normal brew of kratom and cough medicine is relatively harmless. The diphenhydramine in cough medicine acts with the mild narcotic effect of kratom. It cools you down and induces a pleasant feeling of being relaxed. In this case it is clear a dangerous poison of some sort must of been added if this indeed was what happened. I would question the motivations of anybody offering this type of drink to two young girls.

Posted by logbags on September 1, 2012 17:07

Editor Comment:

Until there's some hard evidence that the young women were offered such a drink, it's pure speculation. Even if the autopsy - when it's officially released - confirms the presence of insecticide, that doesn't mean it was taken in a drink. There has been no explanation from CBC as to how their reporter determined it was in a drink.

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I don't like wild speculation either when people have died so tragically. I just thought I'd mention it because it is a reasonable theory and the average tourist would be totally unaware that such concoctions exist.

Posted by logbags on September 1, 2012 19:11

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@ sky

Fully agree with you but I sure wish we were wrong.

Either way it's guaranteed that no change will come without outside pressure. PW has outshined any other news outlet in Thailand in raising awareness of incidents like this that desperately need that outside pressure to be resolved.

As annoying as the ED may at times be, I'm grateful for his dedication to Phuket news coverage.

It DOES make a difference.

Posted by Andrew on September 1, 2012 19:12

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@Pete

I agree about Citronella use as mosquitto-repellent.

But is 80THB or 90THB 125ml spray from TOPS is to be considered expensive to struggle yourself with lemongrass distillation at home?

Posted by SUe on September 2, 2012 03:03

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@SUe: There would be about one small drop of citronella in the spray you buy at Tops. The pure steam distilled oil commands an exceedingly high price almost equating to that of rose oil distilled in the same manner, thus it bears no comparison to industrial grade (essential) oils that are most commonly used. Pure citronella has a multitude of uses, as an essential oil, in aromatherapy, medicinal - fevers, headaches, arthritis - insect repellents for humans & pets, cosmetics, perfumes, flavourings etc. etc. The reason I mentioned DIY distillation was that a very large profit can be made from the end product. I could go on but keep this short as it is somewhat off topic.

Posted by Pete on September 2, 2012 08:35

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Thai mixologist: "Hmmm this cocktail doesn't take so good. I know, let's add this bottle of mosquito repellent I just bought in 7-11. That should add flavour." Mixes in bottle of 25% DEET mozzie spray. Shocking....

Posted by Mayday Call on September 2, 2012 10:12

Editor Comment:

Shocking guesswork, Mayday Call. It's unfair to pretend that it really happened. While CBC says that's what occurred, there's no supporting evidence yet.

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I just think, if it was in a cocktail, wouldn't it have been a more wide spread problem, and happen more often.

Posted by Anonymous on September 2, 2012 13:59

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@Pete
Do you that all what is available at the market at the specified price range, are products, that are not efficient mosquitto-repellers, because of insufficient concentration of (essential) citronella?

Some looks nice for me, like Citronella Mosquitto repellent 110 ml, by Khao Kho Talay Pu, who pretends to produce "natural&healthy cosmetics" - and indeed some fomulation lacks SLS, glycerin etc., 90 THB from TOPS. They don't promise wonders - just 4 hrs of protection, but it's ok, and so far always worked like good mossies repeller.And no DEET inside.

Posted by SUe on September 2, 2012 23:43


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