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After a 2009 Karon drowning, a lifeguard tries to persuade tourists to leave the water

Phuket's Lifeguard System Dead on the Sand

Wednesday, March 10, 2010
UPDATE

Chief Executive of the Phuket Provincial Administrative Organisation, Paiboon Upatising, telephoned Phuketwan today from the ITB Berlin travel trade fair to say that the tendering system has now been abandoned and he will drive the introduction of a workable lifeguard system for Phuket as soon as he returns.

News Analysis

PHUKET'S lifeguard system needs rescuing. Is there a big, bronzed Aussie-style lifesaver out there who can resuscitate the failed concept that passes for Phuket's tendering system for lifeguards?

The popular holiday island, famous around the world for its beaches, now faces a dangerous low season in 2010 with no lifeguards on Patong, Karon, Kamala, Kata and the other splendid stretches of sand that bring tourists on beach holidays.

What will happen in the dangerous monsoon season between May and October when visitors to the island insist on swimming, because they've been sold by disingenuous marketing on a ''Summer'' holiday on Phuket?

The tendering system organised by the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation has failed to produce a single tender application for the lifeguard contract since the previous contract ended in mid-November.

The result: no lifeguards on any of Phuket's popular beaches. Needless deaths by drowning. Grieving families. Honeymooners returning home with corpses.

While questions have always been asked about the adequacy of lifeguard training, everyone agrees that having someone with a red-and-yellow cap and a whistle on a beach is better than having no-one.

The question is why the Phuket authorities persist with a system that is doomed to fail and likely to continue to bring Phuket's reputation into disrepute as drownings continue to mount.

There were 57 drownings on Phuket in 2009 - an appalling tally when compared with the 153 deaths on the roads, considering the number who use the roads compared with those who swim.

Volunteers who teach children to swim and Australian experts who have pointed out the flaws in the Phuket system continue to be frustrated by lack of a sensible course of action.

At the heart of the cause of the crisis on the beaches is the tendering system, which offers successful contractors 20 million baht for one year to cover 83 trained staff in two zones on the island.

It's an unattractive proposition because there is no guarantee that the service will continue. The tendering process has to be renewed every year.

The role-model Australian system is based on volunteers or low-paid lifesavers who are properly trained in rescue and cpr through a club system that makes patrolling beaches a healthy sporting activity. The men and women who carry out this role are heroes.

On Phuket, the authorities have yet to realise the social benefits of training and retaining lifesavers, as distinct from lifeguards.

Generally, the attitude to drownings in Thailand and on Phuket is more likely to be sum num na . . . it's your own fault.

Efforts are being made by concerned expats and Thais to bring about a cultural change that would benefit Phuket and enhance its reputation as a year-round beach holiday paradise.

But there is a lack of support and finance, and no indication yet of one essential vital life sign: a willingness to change.
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Latest A plan to put lifeguards back on Phuket's beaches suffers when two tendering firms fail to front. The system needs saving before tourists and islanders swim into strife this ''summer.''
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Latest Thai law is hampering the provision of a lifeguard system at Phuket's most popular beaches, prompting the likelihood that more needless drownings are inevitable in 2010.
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Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Can't the governor request (like keeping bars open til 4am in Patong) that expats have the right, maybe the obligation, to submit a bid on the matter. Give me an Aussie any day!

Posted by peter rawai on March 10, 2010 16:30

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Ok, maybe I am wrong. But if you go for profit-organisations to do rescue work, you have to reward them when they behave good.

With a tender or fixed budget you make more money only by a worse service. Less educated "life-savers" etc. So the most brain power will go in ways to accomplish that.

Better to part the things. One fixed budget for checking the conditions on each beach every day, closing some areas, putting up red flags. Educating the people at the beach.

Second: private companies can win a licence for a beach, with a monthly small standby fee + search and rescue bonuses, payable by the rescued and a no death bonus each month. On every beach one or two jet skis on stand by should do the trick.

Make it profitable to safe lives, if you go with profit organisations. That means competition and motivation in the direction of better service. Maybe even the hospitals could provide the s&r like they do in road accidents.

Or go not-for-profit-but-fame. For Thailand right now I would prefer for-profit, if done rightly.

Posted by Lena on March 11, 2010 17:32


Monday May 20, 2024
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