The Thai Navy was there first, on a tender close to Racha Noi island, loading water and food onto the flimsy vessel. There were 205 men and boys on board, packed solid.
While the sea all around was alive with pleasure vessels, diving and snorkelling voyagers, big game fishing trekkers, day-trippers taking in the scenery, these Rohingya boats . . . well, they make you weep.
This one was different from the previous one that reached Phuket on January 1 with men, women and children on board. Families fleeing persecution.
Today's boat was longer, if anything more crowded, and it contained only men and boys. And they were, it seemed, out of luck.
While other boats have recently been intercepted and their occupants taken ashore, these men and boys were being ''helped on.''
This means the Thai Navy assists with extra water and food, plus fuel if necessary, and ushers the would-be refugees in the direction of ''a third country.''
I've seen Rohingya at sea before, as well as in police cells, hobbling towards the entrance of a Thai jail . . . and now, being ''helped on''.
All the talk going on in Bangkok about the future of these people fades in meaning alongside the images of this boat, bobbing on an irridescent blue, broad sea.
To go to sea packed into a boat like this, you have to be desperate. You have to be in fear of something more frightening than the deep blue ocean. You have to be willing to cast your fate to the wind.
It is mesmerising to see this. The men, overlooked by an officer with a gun, taking what they are given, prepared to journey on towards whatever may lie over the horizon.
Once the transfer of food and water is complete, the Rohingya are on their own again. There is a round of applause, a handclap for the Navy.
The boats part, pointed in dramatically different directions. We aim our speedboat back towards Phuket and the tourists' paradise.
Very comendable journalism. The pictures are incredible too.
So we live in a tourism paradise, and what can those who've gotten rich off the tourism here do to help these poor people's plight? Or is it all in the hands of Thailand's government?
Posted by Jake on January 29, 2013 19:12