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Dive bans cast a pall over Phi Phi and other Phuket area destinations

Phuket Dive Despair: Ticket Rip-off Revealed

Sunday, February 6, 2011
UPDATE

The diving seminar will be held from 1pm-430pm Thursday February 10 at La Flora Resort and Spa, Bang Niang Beach. Telephone: 076-428 000

Original Report

DIVERS troubled by a selective ban on coral reef sites at Phuket's Andaman marine parks and a massive graft investigation will have a chance to ask questions at a seminar this week.

The seminar is being planned for a Phang Nga resort on Thursday, February 10, by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, with divers from Phuket and Phang Nga invited to attend.

The meeting comes amid fresh reports of a ''ghost ticket'' swindle that is the latest allegation of corruption in the Phuket region's diving sites.

Phuketwan has learned that park tickets that should be torn in half are being retained and reused. The tickets are meant to be torn, with one half for the tourist and the other for the boat operator.

At Surin island with just one entrance point, the abuse is not as great as at the Similan islands, where the rip-off occurs repeatedly, sources have told Phuketwan.

Diver say that measures to allow the coral reefs to recover from excessive bleaching will prove irrelevant unless authorities act to stop the extensive fishing and poaching that they say continues to cause much greater long-term damage to the Phuket region's marine treasures than mass tourism.

In the last sign of the despair within the dive industry, a veteran operator tells of his torment:

''I write to you because Thai dive operators are in desperate situation as:

- Most of coral reefs in the Andaman Sea are dead or badly damaged, and in particular at Similan and Surin Island marine parks, as well in the south at Phi-Phi, Koh Ha Yai, Hin Daeng, Hin Muang and Tarutao Islands.

- Thai authorities do nothing to set up a mechanism to stop poaching within parks and few large fish are seen while diving. Sharks, rays, tunas are from the past.

- Many foreigners set up tour and dive companies with two million baht in order to get work permits but in fact they just pay 20 up to 30,0000 baht for paperwork to an accounting office or lawyer and all Thai directors, 51 percent Thai shareholders and four Thai staffs for one work-permit are proxy Thai people working for the accounting or lawyer's offices.

- With the easy-going attitude to register companies with the Phuket Phang Nga and Krabi administrations we have more than a thousand dive companies registered with TAT Region 4 and every week, more foreign instructors are setting up their dive companies to work as freelance dive instructors.

- Large dive operators in order to avoid control are splitting their businesses in different companies and employ dozens of foreign instructors as freelance employees with their own work-permit. Thai staffs are just the car drivers, boat crew or petty jobs.

For your information, just to mention:

- Company A (Patong) has to lease on long term one of the two liveaboard dive boats they own for lack of customers.

- Company B (Patong) had to sell its liveaboard dive boat and sell its dive shop in Patong to cope with the lack of business.

- Company C (Chalong) was not able to repair its liveaboard dive boat and is desperately in need to find a buyer before it sank in Chalong Bay and has to close its office in Chalong for lack of business.

- Company D (Kata) has few customers on its day dive trips and is able to survive because of non-diving industry income.

- Company E (Patong) just gave up operating the Patong office and stopped its day dive boat and will try to continue by running a liveaboard dive boat with a home office in Chalong.

- Company F (Phuket City and Khao Lak) lost 15 years ago a luxurious dive liveaboard boat and the second boat is rotting at a shipyard. The dive business is running with one boat.

- Company G (Chalong) had no customers on November-December for its dive liveaboard boat and had been borrowing to cover monthly expenses.

Under the Asean Economic Community plan, Thailand is set to raise its 49 percent ceiling on foreign ownership of logistics service operators to 51 percent in 2011 then to 70 percent in 2013.

Singapore, Laos and Cambodia already allow 100 percent foreign ownership of logistics-related business.

Once the single market is fully implemented under the framework of the AEC, all trade barriers will be removed. Thailand will have to treat foreign companies from Asean using the same standards as those applied to Thai companies.

The AEC groups 10 Southeast Asian countries - Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Burma, Cambodia and Laos.

- Up to December 31 2010: 49 percent ceiling on foreign ownership of logistics service operators.

- From January 1 2011 up to December 31 2012: 51 percent ceiling on foreign ownership of logistics service operators.

- From January 1 2013 up to December 31 2014: 70 percent ceiling on foreign ownership of logistics service operators.

- From January 1 2015 up: 100 percent ceiling on foreign ownership of logistics service operators.

Today any foreigner or group of foreigners are able to set up a dive or tour company in Singapore and owning it at 100 percent and since January 1 2011 that Singaporean company is able to buy or set up a Thai company at 51 percent ceiling on foreign ownership and have the majority at the board of directors.

As there are no serious controls about the money invested (two million baht for a work-permit) to set up the Thai company as well the ratio of four Thai staffs/one foreigner for a work-permit, Phuket and Thailand will become an E Dorado for opportunists in greedy businesses and conflicts between Thai operated businesses and foreigners grabbing large part of businesses through bribes will intensify in the near future.

From new year until the middle of February, most of us will get enough business to cover the monthly expenses but all of us have no clear booking until the end of the high season in April and nothing for the coming low season.

I have spoken with many Thai dive operators and all of them do not want to complain as they do not trust Thai civil servants for help.

I believe Thailand is changing and we may be able to get help from officials with clear reports of what is going on.''

The venue for the meeting on February 10 will be announced shortly and Phuketwan will provide an update. Marine biologists have also been invited to attend.
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Comments

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This "veteran operator" makes some good points. The diving industry around Phuket is suffering horribly, this is a fact. One factor is the crazy over-supply that is so rife in this and all other aspects of tourism related enterprise here. But another, I would suggest more important point, is the state of the reefs. Having just returned from a live-aboard trip to the Similans on my first trip back in three years (I spent a number of years working as a dive guide full time) I can confirm that the damage is considerable, more than that, horrible.

The damage seems to be worse in the southern sites, but even at the most northern (North Point) the Staghorn coral is all but completely dead. The sites are still physically there (rock formations, reef slopes, sandy areas) but the overall bio-density is notably reduced. These sites are a pale shadow of their former selves.

All the dive operators I know are setting their sights on booking trips even further north into Burma where the reefs don't seem to have suffered at all. These trips still launch from Thai ports, and are operated by companies in Thailand so there is still money coming into the Thai economy from them, but it's not a good advert for Thailand. Also ever fewer of these trips a embarking from Phuket, but rather from further north in and around Khao Lak.

"Veteran Operator"s comments on work permits and Thai companies are the worst kind of protectionism. We see this again and again from Thais who are not accustomed in their culture to dealing with competition. Rather than out-performing their competitors, the average Thai seems to prefer to handicap or even destroy them. He/she points out that in Singapore 100% foreign ownership of companies is allowed. Why is this?
It's because Singaporean companies are competitive. Apparently he/she is admitting that Thai companies are not?

The bureaucracy and red tape involved in setting up a company and getting a work permit here is extensive and expensive, and continues to be expensive as long as they are maintained. Anyone with a work permit is continually contributing to the Thai economy in taxes and fees. My own work permit costs me well over 120,000 baht a year (about a quarter of which goes to the accountant). So what's your problem? It can't be that the Thai economy is suffering from all this money coming into it. So what is it? Are we taking jobs away from Thai nationals? Then get competitive! A Thai national is far cheaper and easier to employ than a foreigner, if they perform as well as a foreigner then they will be employed more.

Come on Thailand.

Posted by CaptainJack on February 6, 2011 14:02

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Call me old and jaded, but the last "big meeting" was at the time of the marine parks entrance fees increase. At that one, officials promised that the higher tariffs would be applied to conservation and parks management, not to 'somebody's new Mercedes'.

One thing is certain: credible members of the diving community and marine biologists will not be arriving at the meeting venue in a new Mercedes.

Posted by Treelover on February 6, 2011 15:41

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Captain Jack you have got it right. The corruption and off season fishing in the marine parks have killed the fish populations.
It will kill the diving tourists. Eat .... Thailand greed will cost billions in revenue and graft money.

Posted by GrahamMac on February 6, 2011 17:44

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For a Thai to register a business, my wife could not remember, it is either 60 or 80 Baht. World of difference. To de-register a business, 20 Baht. Yes, you are reading these rates correctly.

Posted by Lee on February 6, 2011 18:05

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Seems to me it isn't just the dive industry abusing FBA.

Does any small company really adhere to the spirit of the law re 51% ? Nominees are rife. One must have a trusted Thai partner with a legitimate %51 stake in the company- ostensibly meaning their own 1.1 million in the kitty.
Does manipulating vote shares a loophole or outright fraud?

Posted by Cap't. Kirk on February 7, 2011 10:16

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CaptainJack makes some excellent points, although the reports that I have been getting about the condition of the Burmese reefs are not as positive. Dynamite fishing has been going on there for years, with many of the alleged culprits being Thai fishing boats.

One dive operator told me of an unpleasant experience leading a group to a site in the Mergui Archipelago. Halfway through the dive a Thai trawler arrived and starting dropping dynamite a bit further down the reef. He said that the shock waves from each explosion made for a most unpleasant dive experience.

Posted by Treelover on February 7, 2011 11:24

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We should be over-flowing with divers with all the trouble in Egypt right now, but the LOS is really just a big LOSS. Global waming and damage by trawl nets have decimated the reefs, plus breath-taking dumbness of officials adding more tuna boats than tuna to the mix. Border wars. Red shirts. Corruption. Murders of foreigners. Psychotic yaba fuelled ladyboys. Shall I go on? It's a wonder whose really sane here?

Posted by Dive Center on February 7, 2011 12:09


Sunday December 4, 2022
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