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Another new year, another evacuation: bedraggled strading survivors

Phuket Terror: Time for Thailand to Properly Protect Tourists

Saturday, April 20, 2013
News Analysis

PHUKET: The safety and security of Phuket tourists and Phuket residents is a priority at Phuketwan. It would be nice if the Bangkok government made it a priority, too.

This Songkran New Year on Phuket and around the Andaman was, like last new year, overshadowed by mass evacuations.

Memories fade fast. Terror, like pain, is something that people find difficult to recall.

Yet a little over 12 months ago, all of Patong and the population of Phuket's entire holiday west coast was fleeing inland because of a tsunami alert.

It was a chaotic evacuation, followed within the week by a second evacuation. The second tsunami scare was triggered by an earthquake with its epicentre under Phuket.

And this week, right on cue, the Phuket region marked the first anniversary of those evacuations with a new evacuation, the mass rescue of more than 400 stranded tourists by the Royal Thai Navy.

So what has been done to correct the problems that became evident during last year's evacuations?

Phuket's 19 beachside tsunami warning towers sound the alarm with only one note. There is no different note to sound when the tsunami alarm ends.

The warnings come in five languages, yet not Russian or Burmese, the languages spoken by many on Phuket and around the Andaman these days.

Have the worn-out blue and white tsunami hazard zone signs been replaced? Phuket is, after all, still in a tsunami hazard zone.

Back in 2004, the December 26 tsunami did kill 5400 people, approximately half of them tourists, in Thailand's biggest natural disaster.

So what has been done to correct all of the flaws in the tsunami warning system, the problems that became evident one year ago?

We asked the Director of Phuket's Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, Sant Jantawong. He responded: ''We have made Bangkok aware of all the issues. We are still awaiting a response.''

This week, the warship Pattani sailed to a storm-battered island off Phuket to rescue more than 400 tourists and the crews of more than a dozen dive and day-trip boats.

The ''captains'' of these vessels had either put to sea deliberately ignoring the fact that experts had been forecasting a dangerous storm was on the way, or they just didn't bother to check the weather forecast.

Either way, they were derelict in their duty to safeguard passengers' safety.

In this new year's mass evacuation, the anguish of some rescued passengers was quickly replaced by anger at having their lives needlessly put at risk.

There is no officially appointed authority to prevent the ''captains'' of tourist vessels from sailing into dangerous storms, regardless of warnings. Thailand must now create one.

Somsak Phurisrisak was formally appointed Thailand's new Minister of Tourism and Sports on April 9.

''After familiarising himself with the ongoing ministry activities, Mr Somsak indicated that he would make visitor safety and security a primary focus of attention,'' says the media release announcing his appointment.

Phuketwan congratulates Mr Somsak and welcomes quick action on both these issues. Happy New Year.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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''Either way, they were derelict in their duty to safeguard passengers' safety.''
In most countries it would be normal practice to have an official investigation into what went wrong and why the navy had to come to the rescue of stranded tourists.
Dereliction of duty is serious, so why no investigation? One would expect prosecutions for such an offence instead of making attempts to ignore it by saying safety in future will be a primary focus of attention. Another case of sweeping it under the carpet.

Posted by Pete on April 20, 2013 09:47

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Please leave your ATM card at immigration, then we will make sure your safe from harm, oh and welcome to Phuket ......

Posted by Simon on April 20, 2013 11:09

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555 !

Posted by Robin on April 20, 2013 13:50

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Good article AM and CS, "We have made Bangkok aware of all the issues. We are still awaiting a response" Phuket is a huge tourist area and revenue producer for Thailand and this demonstrates that BKK do not care about safety for their tourists, very sad. In regards to the dive boats there is no punishment and therefore no deterrent to avoid it happening again.

Posted by Fiesty Farang on April 20, 2013 13:55

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666 !

Posted by Tarquin on April 20, 2013 15:58

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I have just finished reading a book from Colin Martin, "Welcome to Hell ".
It should be compulsory reading for all expats. Beside the chronicle of his personal tragedy in a thai prison, Colin reports accurately and objectively how things work, here in Thailand.
Hence comments from Pete or other readers, with expressions like "in most countries", "normal practice" etc.. although absolutely true, have got no value here.
Read the book, you will understand where you live and why people behave this way.

Posted by william on April 20, 2013 23:33

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@william: What's your point? The only commonality between you and Colin Martin is greed and naivety. He saw an opportunity to make easy money in Thailand but was scammed out of millions of baht, so he set out to find the scammers and deliver his own form of justice - he killed one of them. His Thai wife then ran off with the bail money sent from UK, hence his time in prison.
I don't see the logic in your comment; it's certainly not related to the subject.
Have you also read Private Dancer?

Posted by Pete on April 21, 2013 07:25

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Pete, my point :read the book and try to understand how the system works. Then you will see that there is no "normality" here.
And why are you so obsessed with greed? Did you lose all your money in a risky, greedy venture?

Posted by william on April 21, 2013 13:43

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@william: Having lived and worked on and off in Thailand since 1990, I know how the system works I have no intention of reading the book. I'm not obsessed with greed- you are, as you said in a previous comment referring to tourist safety. No, I don't take risks, especially with money. You're way off the topic which is about the protection of tourists by dive operators, yourself included.

Posted by Pete on April 21, 2013 14:45

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I do feel that my recent comment about Visas is relevant to tourists some of whom decide to stay longer. Why have you not printed it?

Posted by Fiesty Farang on April 21, 2013 16:35

Editor Comment:

The article has nothing to do with visas. Your previous comment is irrelevant and unacceptable.


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