PHUKET: Officials on Phuket appear to be ignoring a promise by new Tourism and Sports Minister Somsak Pureesrisak to make tourism safety and security a priority.
Phuket's beaches were unprotected by lifeguards for seven weeks last year because of protracted negotiations over the renewal of the annual contract.
The same kind of nightmare for holidaying swimmers is looming this year with the Phuket Lifeguard Service unable so far to seal a deal with the Phuket Provincial Administrative Organisation, which provides funding.
On Phuket last weekend, Tourism Minister Somsak met with officials from Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi and told them he was committed to the safety and security of tourists as top priority.
Nobody seems to have told the Phuket Provincial Administrative Organisation that it's unacceptable for a year-round beach holiday destination to be without lifeguards.
In a deadly beginning to the monsoon season last year, eight tourists drowned on popular Phuket beaches between mid-May and mid-July.
Hundreds of others were saved in rescues by a team of Phuket lifeguards that has improved its skills greatly in the past few years.
However, if lifeguards are forced to leave the beaches on May 27, when the present contract expires, the PPAO can expect an unprecedented outcry.
It's understood that the organisation is willing to provide the 20 million baht budget but wants the number of lifeguards increased from the present total of 106 men who patrol 13 beaches.
The lifeguards are puzzled as to how an increase in numbers can be achieved without an increase in funding. They also say that some of their equipment is worn out and needs replacing.
''Morale is already beginning to suffer because people don't know whether they will have an income at the end of next month,'' said Phuket Lifeguard Service spokeswoman Witanya Chuayuan today.
''To hold our team of skilled lifeguards together, we need certainty and consistency. It's just a matter of the PPAO officials beginning talks sooner so they can always be concluded before the contract expires.''
Drownings often occur because holidaymakers ignore red flag warnings and have no idea that a calm patch of water may conceal a dangerous seasonal current, known as a rip.
Many Phuket resorts promote the island as a year round beach destination, and lifeguards say it's the resorts' responsibility to warn guests when swimming in the sea could cost them their lives.
Some of the more responsible resort managers already warn customers that the resort swimming pool is a safer place in stormy monsoon weather.
As a reminder of the consequences of lack of action and warnings on Phuket beaches, Phuketwan today republishes the list of the eight drownings on Phuket beaches from mid-May last year.
July 24 A British tourist drowns at Patong beach on an early morning swim, the third recent death near the same spot on Patong beach in the space of a few weeks.
June 30 Chinese tourist Tinqi Li, 19, drowns while swimming at night at Patong. A jet-ski rider finds him and pulls him back to shore but cpr fails to revive him.
June 19 Unidentified Western man drowns at Nai Harn as red flags fly. Two Chinese tourists, a man and a woman, are rescued. The man is later identified as Rasmus Beyemann, 72, a Dane who had been living on Phuket for five years.
June 12 American university student Joshua Shane, 21, goes missing at Patong on a late-night swim with friends. His body is found on June 14. Another swimmer requires hospital treatment.
June 8 A tourist from Egypt and a tourist from Kuwait, visiting Phuket, go on a whitewater adventure tour north of Phuket with friends. The friends are rescued when a monsoon-boosted stream overturns their raft. The two men drown.
June 2 A young Thai visitor from Bangkok, Austatiwood Prommarat, 18, disappears into the surf at Patong after he and a relative allegedly hang their shirts on a warning red flag before going into the water. The relative is rescued.
May 31 An American kite surfer collapses in the shallows at Nai Harn, Phuket's most southerly beach, and dies soon after. His death may not have been a drowning but possibly a heart attack.
May 30 Russian tourist Denis Korobogatov, 33, appears to be caught by a ''rip'' tide at Karon beach and is dragged to his death.
May 27 Phuket's lifeguards, absent from Phuket beaches for seven weeks because of a contractual dispute, return to daily patrols of Phuket's 13 most popular west coast beaches.
May 20 On a day's outing to difficult-to-access Freedom Beach, between Patong and Karon, Frenchman Stephane Dacosta, 32, disappears into the water. He washes ashore at nearby Kata beach a day later.
May 18 With lifeguards absent from all of Phuket's beaches, Angelo Piazza, 53, disappears into the surf at Karon beach, south of Patong, and drowns.
The figure of eight beach drownings on Phuket between May 18 and July 24 contrasts with just five drownings recorded for the whole of Phuket - including deaths in ponds and canals as well as beaches - in the first four months of 2011.
Officials have ceased issuing updates on the number of drownings on Phuket and no longer update the road toll figures.
The statistics for people who died in crashes on Phuket's roads and drowned on Phuket in 2012 has not been released.