'Thailand can be a deadly destination for Australian tourists'
PHUKET: Thailand is one of Australia's favourite overseas holiday destinations - but the popular family playground has a darker side, writes the Herald Sun.
Thursday 31 January 2013, 05:03PM
Figures reveal the South-East Asian kingdom is the deadliest destination for Aussies. The 100 Australians who died there last year accounted for one in eight of the 791 deaths on foreign soil.
Greece, which boasts large numbers of dual Australian citizens, was the next most likely spot for Australian passport holders to die, with 58 deaths.
"Most died from natural causes, such as illness and age but, sadly, many - the result of accident or misadventure - were avoidable," Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Simon Merrifield said.
An Australian dies in Thailand every four days on average and hundreds more require consular help.
Melbourne man Sebastian Eric Faulkner, 21, was the first Australian to die in Thailand this year when he fell to his death from a Phuket hotel balcony early on New Year's Day.
Consular officials say motorbikes, power-ski accidents and alcohol-fuelled mishaps are the most common cause of serious injuries. Thailand's full moon parties also often spark calls for help.
"Consular officers regularly assist young Australians who have been arrested, robbed, assaulted, sexually assaulted or injured during full moon parties," Mr Merrifield said.
"Tragically, Australians have also died as a result of full moon party accidents."
Disputes over power-ski hire, with claims of damage leading to demands for large amounts of compensation, are also common.
"We have had several reports of tourists being threatened with violence if the compensation is not paid. Some operators have also refused to return passports that tourists have left as a guarantee until such compensation is paid," he said.
Mr Merrifield explained that little could be done to help tourists in that situation: "It's essentially one person's word against the other. Police may become involved and a long legal battle may ensue."
Two alleged Australian outlaw motorcycle gang members were charged last week by Thai police over the shooting of two German tourists in Phuket.
Almost a third of the 875 incidents reported to consular officials in Thailand in 2011 happened at Phuket.
"At any single time, the Bangkok embassy can be managing 200 active consular cases -- including providing assistance to the families of the more than 100 Australians who sadly pass away in Thailand each year," Mr Merrifield said.
"Phuket . . . can account for as much as 60 per cent of the consular caseload during peak tourism season."
In 2012, 146 Australians sought help after being taken to hospital in Thailand, 57 were arrested, 15 were attacked and nine reported child abduction or custody problems. Most arrests involved drugs, theft and assault, with Aussies often facing penalties or jail, even for seemingly minor offences.
Consular officials also investigated 82 missing person reports and made 190 welfare checks and other serious investigations.
–Peter Mickelburough/Herald Sun