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On Phuket, Navy officers plan the interception and recovery of the buoy

Update: Phuket Tsunami Warning Buoy Floats Free

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Navy intercepted the tsunami warning buoy at 6.30am on Saturday 196 miles off the Andaman coast and is now carrying the vital piece of equipment back to base at Tablamu in Phang Nga, where its arrival is expected at 8am on Sunday.

Original Report, with COMMENT

A ROYAL Thai Navy vessel from Phuket aims to rendezvous at 4am on Saturday with a maverick tsunami warning buoy that has been missing since June.

The buoy, at the frontline of Thailand's tsunami warning system, was anchored 600 miles off the Andaman coast as part of measures to prevent a repetition of the 2004 tsunami.

However, in the latest of a series of mishaps that have disabled the system, the buoy broke free last month for reasons that remain unknown. A sign on the buoy says in English: Thailand's Tsunami Detection Buoy. Do Not Approach, Please Do Not Destroy.

Vice Admiral Choomnoom Ardwong, commander of the Third Navy, sent a message via the Indian capital of New Delhi seeking the help of the Indian Navy to locate and apprehend the free-floating buoy, which was carried along by currents at a rate of 10 kilometres an hour.

On June 29, the Thai Navy was told that an Indian Navy vessel had located the lost buoy. However, the vessel was not technically equipped to hoist the valuable piece of marine technology on board.

So on July 5, the admiral ordered a Thai Navy vessel to rendezvous with the Indian vessel and the tsunami warning buoy, which is now about 200 nautical miles off Phuket.

A decision is expected to be made on Saturday whether the buoy needs to be brought back to Phuket for further examination or whether it can be simply be taken back and re-anchored in its rightful position.

The free-floating buoy is Thailand's only tsunami direct detection device. However, the international system now in place usually warns of undersea quakes, whether or not tsunamis result.

With the sixth anniversary of the tsunami coming this year, criticism of the tsunami warning system continues. Earlier this year, a ''live'' tsunami alert was interpreted differently on Phuket by officials and the media, resulting in confusion about whether resorts on Phuket's west coast should be evacuated. Some did, most did not.

Further north in the neighboring province of Phang Nga, where most of the 5400 victims in Thailand were killed in 2004, there was no doubt in the minds of the villagers of Nam Khem: they evacuated.

Undersea earthquakes can be expected to continue because of movements in the Earth's fault plates. Serious doubts remain about the effectiveness of tsunami warnings to Phuket in the hours between 10pm and 6am - especially if the warning buoy is not where it should be.

A survey of tourists on Phuket was made earlier this year by American disaster specialist Robert X Fogarty, founder of Evacuteer, soon after a false tsunami alert.

The survey revealed that most visitors are not warned about the danger of a tsunami. Visitors mostly even fail to note the blue and white signs telling people which way to run to safety.

More than 220,000 people died around the Indian Ocean in the December 26, 2004 tsunami.

Phuketwan COMMENT

Technical difficulties being encountered almost six years after the Indian Ocean tsunami pale by comparison with the important, often-overlooked point: All people in danger along the Andaman coast should be evacuated every time there is a serious tsunami warning. All tourists should be told as their flights approach Phuket or at the airport that, while an evacuation is unlikely, they are entering a tsunami-watch zone. Many of the officials who were in charge when the tsunami struck have moved on. Their less-aware replacements need to show the utmost care in protecting the Andaman's residents and visitors. Whether or not tourists evacuate should not be left to resort GMs or duty managers to decide: it should be mandatory. The safety of tourists is far more important than a foolish sense of embarrassment that might prevent the saving of lives in a real second tsunami.
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