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A rescued tourist's dramatic photo of the sinking Phuket speedboat

Near-Tragedies Leave Safety at Sea a Puzzle

Monday, January 9, 2012
News Analysis

PHUKET: More questions are likely to be asked about the sinking last week of a speedboat between Phuket and Phi Phi and the narrow escape of the Australian tourists on board.

Coast-to-coast coverage across Australia of the near-tragedy put Phuket tourism in a bad light this week as the returning tourists gave their accounts to the country's largest selling newspaper network and the national broadcaster.

The Aussies - eight family groups visiting Phuket as members of the Banyule Cricket Club - have described their nightmare at sea on a day outing to Phi Phi in full, with one father saying: "When your daughter is grabbing your arm when you are jumping in saying 'don't let me die', it is certainly something I will never forget. It was horrible."

The intimate accounts of the sinking, first reported on Phuketwan, came only days after a vicious attack on a Phuket resort owner at an after-hours pub bar in Phuket City.

Vorasit ''Wan'' Issara told us later that his attackers thought he was a Korean. Hollywood actor Jeremy Renner narrowly escaped the real-life attempted murder action, so the incident carried Phuket's name around the world - for all the wrong reasons.

Both cases require a full follow-up on the part of Phuket authorities.

Phuket's new Police Commander, Major General Chonsit Wadhnawarangkun, will almost certainly warn all other night venues on the island that they must abide by the law and not allow deadly weapons on their premises.

But who will follow up on the near-tragedy experienced by the Aussie tourists on their day trip from Phuket to Phi Phi?

Will anyone be held responsible?

It's highly likely that a recent campaign by Marine Office 5 to make sure all vessels carry lifejackets ensured there were enough to go around on the sinking speedboat when the Australian tourists and their young children needed them on Thursday.

And through a stroke of good fortune, the boat of Prestige Divers was within sight of the stricken speedboat and managing director Micha Hildner did the right thing by plucking the frightened tourists from the water, then watching the speedboat sink.

But who will take the matter further? Who will reassure Australia that tourists can be guaranteed of the utmost safety on day-trips between Phuket and Phi Phi, and elsewhere on vessels around the region?

Phuripat Theerakulpisut, Chief of Phuket's Marine Office 5, told Phuketwan that because the speedboat sank in the neighboring waters of Phang Nga province, it was ''not my area.''

Just a few weeks ago, when a Russian tourist was hit by a speedboat propeller while swimming at Phuket's popular Kata beach, Khun Phuripat told us that those kinds of calamities were ''natural.''

The driver of the speedboat was not reprimanded and the Russian tourist was left to languish in hospital, without compensation.

We know that the Marine Office is concerned about safety at sea - they recently apprehended a ferry running from Koh Lipe to the Satun mainland for carrying too many passengers.

But questions remain. Major General Chonsit will do his utmost to restore the reputation of Phuket's nightlife as being less than dangerous.

But who will restore Phuket's reputation among tourists - especially those from Australia and Russia - for properly protecting tourists at sea?

Phuket tourism doesn't deserve to experience that sinking feeling ever again.

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Ed, why don't you enquire about the other four speed boats that sank during the same week but never managed to make the headlines???

Posted by George on January 9, 2012 10:57

Editor Comment:

Who do you suggest we call, George?

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The media can ask all the questions it likes, but its common knowledge that no real answer, or better still firm solutions, will be forthcoming.

Again, it's all about money and providing that keeps rolling in then why should the Authorities care.

Best scenario... Some lip services, followed by complete inaction. Business as usual.

What foreign Governments need to do is stop talking about imposing travel warnings and actually do it.

Reduce tourism here to almost nothing and then once the money dries up things might just start to change.

Posted by Graham on January 9, 2012 15:01

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I'm off to Phuket in march and have already
Booked a day trip to phi phi island. I would really
Like to know what tour company it was that their
Speed boat sank. If its the company I'm going with
I won't be anymore!!!!

Posted by Jonno on January 9, 2012 15:12

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I travelled sept 2011 and took the slow ferry, not a problem, it had toilets, snack bar, and in the choppy crossing made light work of it, we saw a few speedboat passengers getting quite bounced around when they rocketed past.. was glad we chose the ferry, it takes about an hour and a half to travel the distance and wasn't bored, watched the antic of the speedboats and the views made it go by quick.. And yes I did make sure there were lifejackets..just in case..LOL

Posted by Rob on January 9, 2012 16:47

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I think a warning of Safety from ALL countries about Phuket would Be Good For Phuket. Phuket is Growing way to fast for it's own good. They are boasting about the amount of visitors every year steadily increasing. Phuket Lacks Police and Safety measures Through out. As My lady In Phuket says T.I.T. This Is Thailand.
A serious lack of governmental Infrastructure and Enforcement of laws.

How does the speed boat man driving over a swimmer go untouched?
I love Phuket But Scared to retire there.
Enforce Safety, Not For Tourist But The People Of Thailand. Please Start with the Roads and driving Safety.

Posted by Khun John on January 9, 2012 23:56

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If you want a trouble free ocean trip use Simba Sea Tours. Very safe & professional outfit. Check them out on facebook.

Posted by Ritchard on January 10, 2012 05:09

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I have been out in some of these speed boats. They have no fire safety, usually just one bilge pump, they are made of plywood, they are all leaking thus taken on shore every day, and most have 2 stroke engines polluting badly. Barely usable very close to the coast. Would anyone have travelled off shore with these boats back home?

Posted by katabeachbum on January 10, 2012 14:58

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As one of the Aussie tourist saved in the above incident, we were all shocked to learn the next day that the skipper had previously informed the owner of the boat that it was damaged and the bilge pump was faulty. The owner refused to make repairs as he could not afford to. How the captain could then risk not only his own life but that of his crew, children and other adults beggars belief. If this is the mentality of professional boat operators in Thailand, what hope is there. Thank God for Prestige Divers, who saved us all.

Posted by greg on January 11, 2012 07:33

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Fact is: Nearly ALL Thai speedboats are dangerous. They are over-loaded; without proper safety equipment and with NO buoyancy [as they are made of wood and chipboard]. Most people do not realize that even if filled with water, most safely built boats should not sink, but only 'bob around' at the surface [semi-submerged]. I would never take my children on 99% of Thai speedboats. There are big [safer boats] that go to Phi Phi. In Thailand avoid speedboats, jet-skis and tuk-tuks [where possible.]

Posted by JJ on January 11, 2012 18:05

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Took a (too long) bumpy speedboat trip to Phi Phi on 6 Aug. It was far too rough and uncomfortable. No lifejacket drill. Injured my hand trying to retrieve a bag under my seat, as the boat dropped down over a wave. It's still swollen, it's been scanned and drained (back in Australia) but it's weeks off from full recovery. Skipper on boat concerned and fetched ice on Phi Phi, which island was dirty and lacking facilities. Other passengers from another vessel took the ferry back - wish we had.

Posted by Marion on August 29, 2012 07:45


Monday September 15, 2014
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