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Vice Admiral Choomnoom Ardwong (left) today with the man he succeeds

Phuket's New Navy Chief Wary of Boatpeople

Tuesday, October 6, 2009
THE NEW Commander in Chief of the Third Naval Area Command, which has a base on Phuket, says his crews are prepared for an influx of Rohingya boat people this sailing season. Pirates have also become a regional concern.

Vice Admiral Choomnoom Ardwong has replaced Vice Admiral Narong Testwisan, one of many government positions in the Andaman provinces changing in this season's administrative ''monsoon.''

''Phuket's tourism base means we have a broader role here,'' Vice Admiral Choomnoom said at the handover ceremony today.

From October 2008 to September 2009, the navy arrested 907 Rohingya in 10 incidents, he revealed. Most boatpeople sailings come in the calm November-March period.

In that same period, the navy was called to 12 sea rescues, he said. One case involved plucking a sick man from the Kamsar Gold cargo ship by helicopter and transferring the man to Vachira Hospital on November 26.

Drug interceptions have also been made. The navy oversees the six Andaman provinces, including a total of 230 islands and 300 miles of coast.

The Naraintorn sea rescue centre has been set up at the navy's Cape Panwa base on Phuket, he said.

Agencies working with the Rohingya boatpeople have told Phuketwan that it is too early yet to predict what might happen in terms of the number of sailings this year.

Numbers were contained last sailing season because of the ''push-backs'' of vessels orchestrated by the Thai Army, but the previous season almost 5000 Rohingya arrived in Thailand, leading to the ''push-back'' policy that has since been abandoned.

The admiral is one of several new arrivals on the island because of the seasonal changes that take place in virtually every branch of the military and government administration.

Among changes are new provincial or regional heads at the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, the Labor Office, the Forest Department, The Tourism and Sport Office, and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
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