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A survivor took this shot of a speedboat sinking off Phuket in January

Phuket Speedboat Sinkings: Time To Float a Safe New System

Thursday, August 30, 2012
News Analysis

PHUKET: It's time for Phuket's tourism industry to get serious about safety on the water. That means, as Australian honorary consul Larry Cunningham has suggested, not letting speedboats put to sea on dangerous days.

Decisions about venturing into the moody Andaman Sea on days when the Southern Meteorological Centre (West Coast) determines that it could be unsafe should not be left to speedboat captains.

Self-interest means some will inevitably choose to put to sea rather than spend a day without any income, especially if it's the most dangerous time of the year and they have already spent several days without work.

Video footage of the rescue of some of the 41 people who were left to swim for it this week shows how terrifying the ordeal must have been off Phi Phi, especially for children and people who could not swim.

There were tourists from Australia, Britain, Turkey, Kuwait, China and Indonesia involved. Children aged two, eight, 13 and 15 were passengers on the vessel.

Some rescued passengers have said they asked the captain before leaving Phuket whether it was a safe day to be at sea, and he told them that it was safe.

It was a poor decision, and Phuket speedboat captains will keep making poor decisions. That's why the system must be changed.

The loss of money is something Phuket's speedboat captains will have to learn to live with. The loss of lives is what Phuket needs to avoid.

As an international destination, it's time Phuket adopted international standards on land and sea.

A Russian swimmer off Phuket's Kata beach was seriously injured by a speedboat propellor earlier this year. More recently, a French tourist snorkelling off Phi Phi was struck and killed.

Two Chinese tourists have died while snorkelling recently off Phuket and a third woman narrowly escaped after being rescued just in time by her husband.

As more tourists flock to Phuket, the dangers of more deaths and injuries grow.

Some of those tourists come with no idea of the dangers and are given no help to learn the simple art of staying alive while snorkelling.

Fortunately, a recent campaign to equip all speedboats with the proper number of life jackets has saved lives twice this year in speedboat sinkings.

But in the aftermath of this week's near tragedy, Phuket's marine authorities must now become far more proactive and stop speedboats putting to sea when conditions are obviously dangerous, as they were this week.

Full manifests of the people on board speedboats should also become compulsory.

Investment in the safety of tourists at sea off Phuket is wise spending on Phuket's future. Ambassadors from several of the nations with tourists in the water this week are likely to be suggesting it.

We recommend that Marine Office 5, which oversees safety on the water off Phuket, also seeks more staff to improve the quality of its operations.

Speedboat captains must be properly trained about the weather, and about what to do in an emergency.

And Marine Office 5 must understand there is no such thing as a ''natural'' accident in the water. They all can and must be prevented.

Watch the heroes of Phuket and Krabi rescue some of the speedboat sinking survivors:


Comments have been disabled for this article.


The freelance "captains" and their teenage sons who for the "boat crew" are motivated by greed. I don't think taking a day off due to rough sea would have such a financial impact on them. But they cannot imagine a life with days off. They are more interested in accumulating money and buying big Fortuners.

Posted by danny on August 30, 2012 15:35


I fully support everything said here, but I wonder if the reluctant Marine Office 5 actually has legal power to prevent commercial vessels from putting out to sea ?

They seem to suggest they do not and without proper authority even the unlikely effort of trying to improve the safety awareness would be without teeth.

It's no secret that money rules supreme on Phuket.

In my opinion the travel agencies that book these trips for their customers should put a squeeze on the operators refusing to send customers to them on days when Southern Meteorological Centre determines that it could be unsafe.

No customers - no temptation to put lives at risk for the sake of money either.

Posted by Andrew on August 30, 2012 15:57

Editor Comment:

The whole point is that people with a vested interest in tourism cannot be left to make judgements about safety. Does Marine Office 5 have a vested interest in keeping boats at sea, or is tourism safety their main priority? If Marine Office 5 doesn't have the power, create a Phuket harbormaster and give him/her the authority to stop the boats.


The tsunami did not change many things, Night club fire in BKK with many fatalities did not change anything, a few accidents in speed boats won't change anything also. When the dust settles everything will be as before .... the only thing that works is to stop buying the tours....a bit like the slogan used for protected species :"when the buying stops the killings stop too..." The idea that a marine authority should be capable of controlling when boats go to sea or not is a likely scenario when we consider that the police can't even make people follow the most basic traffic rules.

Posted by Bjarne on August 30, 2012 16:00

Editor Comment:

Comparing natural disasters with preventable man-made ones is the first but not the only flaw in your comment. And i have long grown tired of making the point that if you believe nothing will ever change, there is no point in expressing a view on this site. You either believe Phuket can be changed for the better, or do nothing . . . and say the same do-nothing things over and over again.


Certainly, but creating a harbour master like is common in the developed world most likely requires new laws to be passed and that process is slow.

With travel agencies I mean the international ones that send their customers to Thailand, not the local ones. I doubt the safety considerations of local agents are any better than those of the boat operators.

It would be interesting to read PW interviewing Marine Office 5 on this subject. They seem to be almost silent in the media despite two very recent serious accidents.

Posted by Andrew on August 30, 2012 16:37


"The whole point is that people with a vested interest in tourism cannot be left to make judgements about safety." Does this include the Hon Consuls? Would you like to advise us as to what has actually changed? And what has happened to the ground breaking quarterly Hon Consuls meetings?

Posted by Nip on August 30, 2012 17:12

Editor Comment:

We've reported what has happened to the honorary consuls' meetings. And the honorary consuls are perfectly capable of telling you what their attitude is. Try calling one.


@ED, No problem for me, I like to state the obvious as I see it and as it happens again and again, if you think that you will revolutionize Phuket somehow then you are unfortunately overly optimistic because Phuket will only change if forced to change. I was not aware that my comments bored you (in that case you could have refrained from posting them) but now that I am aware I will ensure that it will not happen again in the future. Thanks for the nice words.

Posted by Bjarne on August 30, 2012 17:21


No decision about not letting speedboats put to sea on dangerous days will be taken from Phuket civil servants and that safety concern about who in the Thai Administration has the right to block all boats at port during storm has to be clarify byby law by nationall legislators (Senators, MP and Ministers).
Too much money is involved as those trapped on islands may be able to sue the government to refund lost of hotel room, transfers and air ticket.

Posted by Whistle-Blower on August 30, 2012 21:47


The more these stories are exposed the better chance there will be of real change. Keep it up ED but I think we're missing the point. Many boats went out that day and made it back safely, the bigger issue is lack of safety procedures and life saving equipment on board the boats. When I see people without helmets go through red lights in front of police I'm reminded of the lack of respect for authority. The life vests are sub par and too small for the size of the tourists. Using cell phones to call for help is not a good procedure too with the network problems either. New life vests and a practical, effective communication system is a good place to start.

Posted by Jon on August 31, 2012 07:01


Clearly a new authority needs setting up that HAS the ability to stop vessels leaving shore in adverse condition. The only consolation in this particular case, was that the boat had sufficient safety equipment on board - it was during daylight hours - and that a well organised rescue was possible within a reasonable time scale.

Posted by agogohome on August 31, 2012 14:18


"When I see people without helmets go through red lights in front of police I'm reminded of the lack of respect for authority"

You mean, the lack of respect to law, from the people, who should enforce law, right?

Posted by ??? on August 31, 2012 18:49

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