The loss of human life in disasters of any kind, whether they be air, land or maritime always prompts a review of safety standards. The loss of 47 Chinese tourists in one of the worst maritime disasters in Thailand’s modern history when the ‘Phoenix’ capsized in waters near Phuket is no exception.
In addition to the human tragedy, the loss of Chinese tourism has provided an additional impetus. Chinese tourists account for one-third of foreign visitors to Thailand and almost a third visit Phuket TAT Governor Mr. Yuthasak Supasorn said: “Chinese tourists are now questioning about Thailand’s tourist safety and security measures, our warning systems, as well as the search and rescue procedures. Some have cancelled their travel plans to Thailand. The governor confirmed Thailand prioritises tourism safety and pointed out that the Prime Minister has instructed all agencies to take lessons from the incident. Chinese President Xi Jinping said he “hopes that in the future Thailand will have more laws and regulations to give the tourists more safety than this as well as transport on land, in the air and on the water; everywhere.” Reports of how many cancellations by Chinese tourists have varied with Centara Deputy CEO, Markland Blaiklock remaining upbeat: “Thus far, impact has been minimal and we expect it to remain so, providing the government continues to quickly and effectively respond to the situation. We have received some cancellations, mostly in Krabi and Phuket, and some in Bangkok, while other regions; such as Hua Hin, have minimal or no impact currently.” “More robust enforcement of basic safety measures and regulations should be put in place by the government in order to continue to grow the appeal of the destination and Thailand as a whole,” he added. Chinese people will be well aware that in June 2015 the Dongfang Zhi Xing, a river cruise ship travelling on the Yangtze River, capsized in a severe thunderstorm with 442 deaths in the deadliest peacetime maritime disaster in China’s history. It was reported that a local maritime bureau had sent a warning of heavy rain and thunderstorms. In April this year 17 people were killed when two dragon boats capsized in southern China. A total of 60 people fell into the water with most not wearing life jackets, media reported. Phuket Authorities Respond In an early response to the tragedy Deputy tourist police chief Surachate Hakparn said that Phuket police have pressed criminal charges against the helmsman of the Phoenix for recklessness causing deaths as a weather alert had been issued by the Meteorological Department warning vessels about the onset of dangerous weather conditions. Vice Admiral Somnuk Preampramot, Commander of the Royal Thai Navy Third Area Command based at Cape Panwa on Phuket’s east coast, has been ordered to set guidelines for controlling and supervising tour boats operating in the Phuket area. He said the order followed Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha visiting Phuket in person. There is an urgent need to integrate action by agencies and to improve coordination among agencies to ensure that such incidents are not repeated said Mr Somnuk. As part of the campaign to restore tourists’ confidence that they would not be risking their lives by taking a holiday in Phuket, the Phuket Governor has led an inspection at Rassada Pier, the main departure point for large tour boats and ferries heading out to the popular islands in Phang Nga Bay, including Phi Phi Island. Phuket Governor Noraphat Plodthong, has announced that the province is to upgrade its maritime safety with checkpoints for boat captains as well as passengers. The province is to integrate its work with Royal Thai Navy Region 3, the Phuket Marine Department office and the Phuket Tourism and Sports office. A 24 hour maritime safety centre has been established at Ao Chalong Pier. It is able to communicate with and coordinate between all related units, and produces media in five different languages to ensure tour operators can properly guide travellers. Harbour Department in Prachuap Khiri Khan is On Board Mr. Taweechai Choksamut, Director of the Harbour Department of Prachuap Khiri Khan is also establishing more stringent policies in relation to marine activity safety for tourist boating activities. The measures particularly relate to tourist boats travelling to islands. If there are storm warnings from the Department of Meteorology, operators must cooperate and withdraw services for the safety of tourists. In Prachuap Khiri Khan eight additional staff has been requested to ensure that all the ports that offer boat trips, especially the Hua Hin-Pattaya Ferry Terminal at Khao Takiab, maintain safety standards. There will be regular checks at various ports every week with inspections to ensure that there are sufficient life jackets for the number of passengers and all passengers must wear life jackets. They will check the condition of boats annually before issuing the new licenses, including staff having valid licenses and being fit for duty. The Harbour Department has training courses to educate entrepreneurs one to two times a year and has previously received cooperation from boat tour operators in the area. Although there is over 3,000 Km. of coastline, Thailand is not a historically a maritime nation. Realising the need to strengthen maritime safety regulations, these are some steps being taken: Prohibiting drug and alcohol use for all boat operators before and after journeys Mandatory speed limits GPS devices for any boats carrying more than 12 passengers. All boats scheduled to set out to sea must receive permission Checks of passenger numbers and review and renewal of operators’ licences every five years Improved weather reporting and integration of the Thai Meteorological Department to issue weather alerts, with radio; media and television and hourly bulletins. Regulations strictly enforced with boats inspected for seaworthiness, safety equipment, navigation systems, life jackets and the competence of the captain and crew on board All boat passengers are required to wear life jackets at all times when on the boat. Rescue centres set up and equipped with speed boats, patrol boats, and dive boats to be ready to undertake any emergency search and rescue missions. A tourist database set up to keep track of tourists. Travellers to wear wristbands containing their personal information Installing surveillance cameras at all ports. Copies of tourist passports and ID cards before the journey. Severe penalties and bans for any businesses or boat operators that break the rules. Footnote: According to statistics compiled by the Worldwide Ferry Safety Association in New York, 16,881 people died or were missing in domestic passenger shipping accidents around the world from late 2000 through September of 2014.