Koh Yao Police Chief Col Jirasak Siamsak confirmed to The Phuket News that he received a call from the Phuket Tourist Police, and in turn returned a call to a tourist on Saturday (Mar 19), who asked for police to investigate the armed man.
“We were anchored 100m from shore he brandished a gun. The chief of police from Koh Yao Yai said it was OK and did nothing. We are anchored now 1km from shore hopefully out of range,” the sailor told The Phuket News.
“I told the tourist, Mr Tom, that the island was a government concession area for bird nests and that the men in the area were armed. I advised him, for his own safety, to stay far off or come back to moor at Koh Yao Yai,” Col Jirasak said.
“He did not understand what I said so I phoned my friends who can speak better English to explain to him about the government concession area,” he added.
Col Jirasak said that such operations were well known among local Thai boatmen, and they knew to keep well clear of islands where bird-nest operations were underway.
“The island is prized for its bird nests and the owner has hired many men to look after their area,” Col Jirasak explained.
“The collectors have an exclusive government concession to collect nests in the area. Bird-nest collecting is a lucrative business and tightly controlled by armed men.
“The guards have permits to carry firearms to protect area from poachers and they also protect the birds from other predators, such as snakes. Their only concern is to protect the area and keep birds undisturbed by outsiders,” he said.
The guards are very protective during collecting season, from February through May, Col Jirasak added.
“And when a concession expires, police will guard the area until the next company takes over. We never have issues with people trying to go there,” he said.
Col Jirasak added that if tourists attempt to land on islands where government-concession bird-nest operations are underway, they may face trespass charges.
“There are only two islands in Phang Nga province that have bird-nest concessions, and most fishermen and boat operators know the area well and never attempted to go near them,” Col Jirasak said.
He named the two islands as Koh Li Pe, which is halfway between Koh Yao Yai and Phuket, and Koh Kalard.
However, GPS co-ordinates by “chart plotter” computer identified the island where the incident happened as Koh Ngang (08°02.822'N, 098°40.395'E).
On being informed this, Col Jirasak did not elaborate on whether or not he would investigate.
The tourist also reported that holding off-island was a barge emblazoned with “Naturalnestthailand.com” along the side.
However, when called by The Phuket News the company said that although they have government concessions for “99 islands in Thailand”, that particular island was not theirs.