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Swim-between-the-flags won't be spotted on Phuket beaches from today

Phuket Lifeguards Quit Beach in Dispute

Monday, April 28, 2014
PHUKET: From today, Phuket will have no lifeguards operating on its popular holiday west coast beaches because of a contractual dispute that occurs almost every year.

Phuket Lifeguard Service manager Prathayut ''Nat'' Cheryon said yesterday that last-minute attempts to reach agreement with the Phuket Provincial Administrative Organisation, which pays the lifeguards, had failed.

Lifeguards packed up and left the beaches yesterday with the most dangerous season of the year, the monsoon season, approaching. In 2012, Phuket's beaches remained unguarded for more than six weeks.

''The budget for the coming year has gone up by 10 percent to 22 million baht but we need new equipment, and the budget doesn't allow us to buy new equipment,'' Khun Nat said.

More than 35 people - most of them tourists - drowned at Phuket's popular beaches or at offshore snorkelling spots last year, the most catastrophic in modern memory. Lifeguards saved hundreds of others.

With increasing numbers of non-swimming Russians and Chinese now arriving on Phuket, the need for skilled lifeguards is greater than ever. However, lifeguards insist they need community help to save more lives - and better equipment.

''All our equipment is three years old and it needs replacing,'' Khun Nat said yesterday. ''The equipment we have falls well short of equipment lifeguards have at holiday destinations in Australia and other places where lifesaver are properly supported.''

Phuket has been urged to implement a triple-warning system for arriving tourists so that everyone knows the dangers of swimming at Karon, Kamala, Kata, Patong, Nai Harn and other beaches on red-flag days when lifeguards struggle to keep all swimmers out of the water.

The problem is that without lifeguards, swimmers will not know whether it's a red-flag day or not. Although some Phuket resorts warn guests on days when it's not safe to swim, the majority do not consider it their responsibility.

Needless drownings may follow the absence of lifeguards, water safety experts fear. If the contractual dispute goes on, the ambassadors of some countries may react by alerting citizens in official travel advisories.

The number of lifeguards is to be cut under the new budget so that the experienced and skilled lifeguards are more adequately rewarded. Instead of having 108 lifeguards on the 13 main beaches, the number would be reduced to 88.

However, in the 22 million baht budget, lifeguards have been advised they will need to spend three million baht renewing obsolete equipment.

''Even if the equipment is ordered tomorrow, it would take weeks to arrive from overseas,'' Khun Nat said.

At destinations where saving lives is a priority, lifesavers are provided with jet-skis and sleds to speed rescues. Phuket's lifeguards have to make do with surfboards.

A plan to provide lifeguards at Racha island, the snorkelling spot where many Chinese tourists die, is on-hold because of the 30,000 baht a month cost.

Despite the income derived from tourism, Phuket authorities appear reluctant to show that Phuket really cares about saving lives rather than meeting budget. A more sensible approach would be to have three-year contracts, or at least overlapping one-year contracts.

Any drownings in the sea off Phuket while the lifeguards are not operating can be expected to seriously damage Phuket's appeal as a year-round beach holiday destination.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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A perfectly foreesable situation ignored until the last minute and now this. Life is something considered so cheap on Phuket that no-one is inclined to invest in it. Perhaps the Lifeguards should all block Patong Beach for 10 hours, not let any tourists/ jet skis/ beach vendors etc. on the beach. Will authorities then do something?

Posted by Duncan on April 28, 2014 08:47

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Just as well. Phuket's beaches are largely polluted, crowded with lounger gangs and unscrupulous jet-ski organised crime.

Posted by happyjack on April 28, 2014 08:50

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Or just signpost each beach warning of polluted water and keep people out of the sea altogether.

Posted by Hugh Jarse on April 28, 2014 10:05

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Reducing the number of life guards from 108 to 88 can not be much of a problem, as there are now a number of phuket beaches, know worldwide, were no tourist would put even his feet in the water, dirty, smelly and infectious as the water is.

Posted by Koert on April 28, 2014 15:11

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Yet in todays bangkok post page three big advert for thailand tourism standard for safe and quality tourism in thailand.i think those in bangkok forget that phuket is in thailand sometimes

Posted by michael on April 28, 2014 16:17

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what can we do but watch the body count.

Posted by slickmelb on April 28, 2014 18:45

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Tourism safety is a priority in Phuket!! Yeah right! Words are nothing if the actions prove different! We all know there are a lot of people drowning in phuket (we never hear of half of them!) When will people in charge of making decisions learn 'long term thinking' instead of short term on how to save a few baht!! If safety on phukets beaches is really a priority for the government instead of a 'back slapping' advertising campaign then prove it! Put peoples life and safety first in front of money! Third world country does not have to mean third world brains too! Save phuket tourism by saving lives and improve safety, not doing the opposite! Maybe if all the beaches were blockaded then results would get reached, it seems that this is the only way to get things done here as proved time and again!

Posted by Mr Wolf on April 29, 2014 00:52

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while bagging the government everyone should remember Australian clubs have massive private fundraising, sponsorship and licensed club support. Perhaps the people that profit off tourism should get behind the lifeguards and help out with sponsored equipment.

Posted by Anonymous on April 29, 2014 10:28

Editor Comment:

Indeed. You would think, for example, that the resorts on Racha island could raise the 30,000 baht a month required to provide lifeguards at a spot where too many Chinese tourists drown.

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Good point Editor. Sorry previous post was anon. Didn't realise. First time post, the topic makes my blood boil. Must be a better way. Think the comments on the beaches a bit harsh, they are still great spots.

Posted by Davemc60 on April 29, 2014 11:52

Editor Comment:

They could be great spots once the authorities transparently reveal pollution levels close to shore. Until then, people will wonder. Nobody wants to fall sick on a beach holiday.

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The Government can spend big money on e.g.: ludicrous projects like the 3 sets of traffic lights down in Rawai yet they can't reach an agreement to pay for lifeguards and new equipment... REPUTATION / LIVES SAVED / REPUTATION / LIVES SAVED / REPUTATION Phuket... time to wake up!!!

Posted by DG on April 29, 2014 15:19

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I doubt some people from landlocked country's would be safe in anything but a child's wading pool the comment of
Needless drowning's may follow the absence of lifeguards, with a track record of 35 deceased from drowning last year you can change may to will without revocation. plenty of illegal restaurants' on the beaches not one legal lifesaving club rooms just a tiny open air ramshackle shed at best.

Posted by slickmelb on April 30, 2014 20:18

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Not may people knows that even many childrens of Thai family drown every year in the Phuket sea and many more in the rest of Thailand(about 1.000 par year). So, simply they dont care... Mai pen rai

Posted by dave on May 2, 2014 15:19


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