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Getting it right for the future is what's important now

Why Pursuing the Truth Matters for Tourism

Friday, May 8, 2009
Phuketwan Opinion/Analysis

WE ARE no closer to knowing what killed two young tourists in strange circumstances on Phi Phi, and we hope the answer comes soon.

One important aspect that springs from the Laleena Guesthouse tragedy is the need for people to know precisely what took place, as soon as possible.

In some quarters within the tourism industry in Thailand (and elsewhere) the first reaction probably still is to keep the truth from the public.

Phuketwan has been told more than once that an article should not be written '' because if this gets out, it will damage the tourism industry.''

Well, that just isn't so. What's far more damaging is when people are not told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.

The best philosophy for authorities everywhere these days is to come up with answers as soon as possible, and to act to make sure that the mishap is not repeated.

It has to be said, though, that on recent experience, there are still authorities at all levels who seem to ascribe to the misguided ''Tell Them Nothing'' theory.

This applies often in small communities of the Phi Phi kind, where the instinct seems to be to say nothing for the collective good of the local industry.

We are not suggesting this is the case in Phi Phi right now, only that the cover-up still seems to be viewed as a satisfactory solution by some similar communities.

As a matter of course, an almost constant stream of comments and emails comes our way, suggesting that Phuketwan is in league with the devil and bent on destroying tourism.

We are not. We want Phuket and the Andaman region to prosper, but we are sure prosperity will only come with the gradual adoption of international standards of safety and security for residents and visitors.

That's why we paid such close attention to the discovery of deadly box jellyfish in the region, and were pleasantly surprised to see the local reaction.

Instead of trying to pretend there was no potential problem, hoping the box jellyfish would simply go away, Phuket's marine biologists raised the issue publicly.

In doing so, they won local government support for a coastal warning system.

Along the way, the broader issue of water safety was raised, and prevention of drownings now seems to be being looked at in a much more practical way.

The box jellyfish are being thoroughly researched, too.

Other issues, though, still need public explanations. The latest mysterious deaths on Phi Phi require answers quickly.

Delay will lead to a decline in public confidence and a turn-off in tourism.

The strange point is that only people in those two rooms were affected, side by side, at a guesthouse where, according to all accounts, everything is kept scrupulously clean.

The Bangkok epidemiologist who did some on-site tests found nothing, or so he told us.

He later told Phuketwan, however, that he was no longer able to comment, and that any response would have to come from his superior in Bangkok.

When we called, the superior was not available.

While there may be a logical explanation for this, we can't help being reminded of other instances where the shining light of public disclosure has yet to penetrate.

Just two months ago, a dive boat sank off Phuket's west coast, and six tourists and the Thai cook drowned.

Although the mishap raised some profound questions about the safety of everyone who travels on boats in the Andaman region, it is our impression that very few answers will ever be forthcoming.

Why was there no weather warning? Why did the boat sink without a May Day call? Why did rescuers fail to send up a helicopter that would have found survivors rapidly?

Was this boat, almost brand new, built to withstand Phuket's wildest weather?

Eight weeks on, the insurance money has been paid to the dive company and a lone Phuket City policeman is continuing the investigation, along with his other duties.

In many parts of the world, there would have been an immediate public inquiry by a judge or a coroner, and all the important questions would have been asked and answered by now.

The dive industry should be back with confidence, but it won't be until the safety of passengers can be assured.

Then we come to the big one, the crash of a One Two Go holiday flight at Phuket airport on September 16, 2007. Ninety people, many of them tourists, died. Forty survived.

It seems hard to believe, but the full official account of what took place has yet to be released. It has been in the hands of the authorities in Bangkok for months now.

Whenever we check, bureaucrats are ''still working on the final wording.'' Occasionally, responsibility for the report changes, from one department to another.

This crash took place at an airport, not in the jungle or at sea. The pieces were all there, along with the black boxes. There should be no delay.

Meanwhile, survivors and the relatives of those who died are simply left to wonder, even though it is generally suspected that pilot error and bad weather played significant roles.

Would it be good to get that report out in public so the airline and the public can digest the information and move on?

Yes, we think it would.

Will there still be unanswered questions and uncertainty for some time to come, following seven deaths, about safety on the seas in bad weather off Phuket?

Yes, we think so.

Will the authorities tell us all as rapidly as they can about what caused the so-far unexplained deaths of the two tourists on Phi Phi?

We hope so.

It will certainly be a measure of how far the gradual change in attitude from secrecy to openness has come.

The Mysterious Deaths on Phi Phi

MediaWATCH: Tourist Death Theories Abound
Latest Internal Security Act coming for Phuket; International media seek clues to the deaths of two Phi Phi tourists; why travel is not dangerous; a swim to Burmese heroine Suu Kyi.
MediaWATCH: Tourist Death Theories Abound

Phi Phi Mystery Deaths: The Room Maid's Account
Phi Phi Photo Album Thai guesthouse maids have a way of knowing what goes on and the maid at the Laleena on Phi Phi was close to two mysterious deaths. This is her account.
Phi Phi Mystery Deaths: The Room Maid's Account

Dead Tourist 'Pushed off Phi Phi': Boyfriend
Latest The boyfriend of an American who died in strange circumstances along with a Norwegian woman on Phi Phi has rejected suggestions that they argued.
Dead Tourist 'Pushed off Phi Phi': Boyfriend

The MV Dive Asia 1 Disaster

Dive Disaster: Governor Acts on Water Safety
Latest Phuket acts to provide a 24 hour hotline for land or sea emergencies. But is it enough? Phuketwan believes a major overhaul is required to prevent more tragedies at sea.
Dive Disaster: Governor Acts on Water Safety

Phuket Policeman Heads Dive Disaster Inquiry
Latest Although the tragedy occurred at sea, a Phuket City police superintendent heads the inquiry into the sinking of MV Dive Asia 1, with seven deaths. ''Justice will come,'' he says.
Phuket Policeman Heads Dive Disaster Inquiry

Dive Asia Disaster: Why Public Inquiry is Essential
Latest Two weeks on, and the dive industry and the public know only a little more about the sinking of the MV Dive Asia 1. It's time there was a thorough, independent inquiry. Here's why.
Dive Asia Disaster: Why Public Inquiry is Essential

Aussie Dive Survivor Tells: 'I Walked the Walls'
Inquiry Call Phuketwan calls for an independent inquiry into the diving disaster and relates the nightmare experience of one Aussie diver who survived the sinking of the MV Dive Asia 1.
Aussie Dive Survivor Tells: 'I Walked the Walls'

The Crash of One Two Go Flight 269

Phuket Air Crash Report 'Definitely Next Month'
The official report on the One-Two-Go crash of September 2007 is to be released next month, 17 months after the incident, says a senior person in the Department of Civil Aviation
Phuket Air Crash Report 'Definitely Next Month'

Phuket Air Crash Report: Yet Another Delay
Latest Seventeen months after a holiday flight crashed on Phuket, killing 90 people and injuring 40, the official version of events remains in the hands of authorities. Another release date passes.
Phuket Air Crash Report: Yet Another Delay

Survivors Still Await One-Two-Go Crash Report
One year on, what caused Flight 269 to crash at the island's international airport last September 16? Authorities have had access to a full report, but not the survivors or the flying public.
Survivors Still Await One-Two-Go Crash Report


Comments have been disabled for this article.


So they think it will damage tourism? Great, now I'm not going to Thailand anytime soon. If something happened to me, nobody would give a damn.

Posted by Anonymous on May 10, 2009 03:26


it hurts tourism worse when governments try to hide things. With the internet tourists can find out things happened anyway, and when there are not real answers people get more scarred and stay away. Great job pointing this out, keep doing good work PhuketWan!

Posted by Andaman tourist on May 10, 2009 06:32


I'm glad that the media is finally giving this attention. People's lives shouldn't fall through the cracks because it might interfere with business. If a Norwegian girl died the next day and someone else died under similar mysterious circumstances earlier in the month find the deadly source of this should be a top priority to keep others from being hurt.

Posted by Robin Moore on May 10, 2009 08:20


Keep chiselling away at this and other stories, the truth shall set us all free. Excellent work PhuketWan.

Posted by Graham on May 10, 2009 09:56


The manner in which the two deaths and the associated illnesses were investigated has been deplorable. Inaccurate and misleading information has been circulated, and a complete disregard for basic data/sample collection methodology demonstrated. It helps if there actually is a thorough investigation and if all expected sources of poisoning are examined. To the best of my knowledge, the water supply was not sampled to include all possible sources of contamination, including the wells, the water used in the guest house and most importantly the waste water site adjacent to the guest house. The message I take away from this is that the Thai national authorities neither value the safety of tourists nor care about the negative consequences. For a country where losing face is a primary concern, maybe the people in charge need to look in the mirror because theirs are covered in egg.

Posted by Qualified Observer on May 10, 2009 10:09


Excellent editorial and Qualified Observer, you hit the nail on the head; Thai authorities, indeed the entire culture does not care about safety, not tourist's, not citizen's. That is the, " Thai way" and that is what tourists need to be made aware of.

Posted by MediaWatch on May 10, 2009 11:21


Yes and two years on we still await the official report on the 1 2 Go airliner crash. Maybe if we ignore it, it will go away. Never, I hope all these bad things haunt the authorities until all is truthfully told. Keep hoping for answers, ok.

Posted by Graham on May 10, 2009 13:10


Thank you Phuket Wan for Your efforts.

I wish to live in safe place where errors are openly investigated and then corrected. I believe that this is what the tourists wish as well.

It's ok to make mistakes, but if the lessons are not learned, the errors just keep building up until the structure will collapse.

Posted by Just an reader on May 10, 2009 14:40


Great article. One of the frustrating things about living in Thailand is how hard it can be to find out the truth. Good luck, keep up the good work.

Posted by Colin on May 10, 2009 14:57


I will never go to Phi Phi until whatever happened to those poor people is revealed, so I probably will never get to Phi Phi if the authorities cover it all up.

Posted by Want the truth on May 11, 2009 11:18


It is very disturbing if the authorities on the island would rather hide this than get to the bottom of it. Especially when this could happen to another innocent person.

Posted by Anonymous on May 12, 2009 02:29


I used to go to Phi-Phi 2-3 times every year, and stay for a couple of nights. I will never go to Phi-Phi until the truth is told, and even then I might not return because of the way it was handled. All the stuff going on in Thailand, the NEVER ENDING lies, not valuing life, cheating all non-thais with overpriced taxis, the double pricing at parks, double pricing at hotels, double pricing at restaurants . . .

I will be leaving thailand soon, and never come back . . . When I first moved here and wet behind the ears I used to recommend my friends/family vacation here, now I tell them not to bother, there are too many un-honest people out to rip them off, they would have more fun elsewhere in the world.

Posted by Envy on May 13, 2009 11:04


Thank you for writing this and for standing up to those who believe mistakenly that by burying the truth, tourism will flourish - quite the opposite, look at "Envy's" comment above. I was on Phi Phi when this happened although I did not know about these horrible events. Regardless of what is found out, I will go back to Phi Phi because I love it so much, however, if I had never been, I certainly would not go now! By the way kudos to "Qualified Observer" above, I could not agree more.

Posted by Nicole on May 15, 2009 03:27


Dear Mr Editor, Why has there been no reporting of the German gentleman, Mr Ernst Hermannweid, who died a few days ago in Patong of severe vomiting ? He was staying at the Sky Inn Hotel Patong.

Editor: We concentrate our resources on the important themes and issues for Phuket and the region. Inevitably, many crimes and deaths of the kind that happen everywhere escape our attention.

Posted by elizabeth on May 16, 2009 17:37


The German man in Phuket died of the same symptoms as the 2 women in Phi Phi Do people die everyday in Thailand with extreme vomiting? That should be reported, too.

Editor: People don't die of symptoms. They die of causes. Vomiting can have many causes. There is at this stage no link between the German's death and the death of the two women in Phi Phi.

Posted by MediaWatcher on May 20, 2009 09:59


As a long-term resident on Koh Phi Phi I feel that this site is more interested in provoking scandal and gossip than explaining the truth about news events.

The current events mentioned in the above article have not been "covered up" as suggested by this article.

In regards to the Dive Asia sinking of their liveaboard, there was no cover up and the matter was thoroughly investigated, in fact, shortly after the incident Dive Asia published a full incident report on their website which can be found on the following link:

In regards to the death of a man in Phuket that closely resembles the deaths on Koh Phi Phi, details can be found in the Phuket Gazette. There are currently inquiries going on about the three deaths and there has been a barrage of rumours with no factual basis reported including cyanide poisoning and air condition poisoning.

These insinuations discourage tourism and are not based on factual information, I feel that this paper is more interested in provoking reaction and gossip than finding out the truth

Posted by L on May 23, 2009 11:38


Hear hear, why do panda bears make such good lovers ..... he eats shoots and leaves.

Posted by Mouse on May 23, 2009 12:27


L , This is not a case of trying to hurt tourism. When people, tourists or Thai, die mysterious deaths, then it should be reported, and the correct answers found. This is the job of the authorities, and the press.

Posted by elizabeth on May 23, 2009 17:05


Dear L,
Can a dive company independently investigate the sinking of its own vessel, with seven lives lost? No.
Does the Phuket death ''closely resemble'' the two on Phi Phi, apart from having vomit as a symptom? No.
Is Phuketwan distorting the facts and publishing rumor and innuendo? Nah.
Sorry, but your grasp of what's going on around you lacks a little logic.

Posted by angelfire on May 23, 2009 19:21


I think L must be a business owner or have an interest in business on phi phi and it must be that he is or will be losing money if tourists stay away.

Posted by william Dale on May 24, 2009 14:18


The dive company did not make their own investigation but did not hide or subvert any facts and made it very public about the police investigation and events that occurred so that no one could fuel rumours such as those on such a forum as this.
Also the responses I have received seem to come from people who have little knowledge of Thailand and believe media hype which happens so frequently around the world.
Now that the two "mysterious" phi phi deaths have been attributed to food poisoning possibly from seafood, I'm sure this website will continue to make up "cover ups" for public entertainment

Editor: Dear L, Nobody has suggested the dive company covered up facts, but you do not seem to want an independent, open investigation into a shocking incident that claimed the lives of seven people. That would be the fairest and most appropriate course of action. This site is committed to improving the safety of tourists and residents, especially in and on the water. You can think whatever you like, but a little logic wouldn't go astray.

Posted by L on May 25, 2009 18:16


L, I think you have got it all wrong. I think it was the panda bears ?

Posted by Mouse on May 25, 2009 21:27


Anyone who has lived in Thailand knows that nobody here gives a damn about anything or anyone except money.

Posted by Pess Imistic on October 8, 2009 00:04


Why has no publication printed a story on why the Thai gov't waited so long to issue a Tsunami warning in 2004 when they had approx 1-hour advance notice from the US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center?

Editor: It's simply not true. Why people would be repeating this nonsense almost five years after the tsunami is a mystery. We prefer to avoid rumors, hearsay, conspiracy theories and paranoia.

Posted by Buster on November 13, 2009 09:33

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