The young Australian, known only as “Dean”, had rented a jet-ski, taking it out from Karon beach and managed to overturn it when hit by a big wave. Pretty standard. However what happened next was far from that.
Australian Honorary Consul Larry Cunningham – who, upon hearing about the incident, volunteered to act as liaison and mediator for the lad – said, “A jet-ski boy then apparently ran into the water, whacked him and dragged him to the police station.”
Mr Cunningham was speaking to The Phuket News at Karon Police Station this morning where he was waiting to attend a meeting, set up the previous night, between the Australian boy, Phuket Governor Maitree Intusut and the Head of the Marine Department.
As far as Mr Cunningham was concerned, issues of payment, insurance, violence and blame were to be discussed then.
However, a little after 10am Mr Cunningham learned that the issue had already been resolved and the boy had paid B16,000 late last night, without his knowledge.
“When I spoke to him at about 10pm last night, he had not paid any money and I told him not to do it. He also told me that the police had kept his passport, which is illegal for them to do.”
In response to Mr Cunningham’s query as to where everybody was, he received an SMS from Siriporn Tantiphanyatep, the Director of the Phuket Passport Office, and the official he had been liaising with the previous night. It read:
“The Australian boy paid only 16,000 and has been released because the governor will pay the balance for him for the engine damaged as the boy made jet-ski sunk to the ground [sea bed], which is not covered by insurance. He (and you too) should thank the governor instead of just making complaints all the times.”
Also in the SMS message, Mrs Siriporn said, “And it is not wise to always say bad things about Phuket while you are still living and doing your business in this city.”
The jet-ski owner, Sompoch Kukkno, had also turned up at Karon police station this morning and was wondering what to do next. Police officers were then informed that the governor had requested a meeting with the jet-ski owner at Phuket Provincial Hall.
As Mr Cunningham was also there, he decided that it might be an opportune moment to thank the governor – as the SMS requested.
Unfortunately, when Mr Cunningham arrived at the Phuket Provincial Hall, he was informed by Mrs Sirirpon that Gov Maitree was not available and couldn’t attend the meeting. She also asked him what he was doing there.
Mr Cunningham said that he had come, as requested by the earlier SMS, to thank the governor for his intervention and for agreeing to pay any outstanding balance.
Mrs Siripon took the opportunity to tell the well-known outspoken Australian Consul that his previous “negative” comments about jet-skis, tuk tuks and other issues were harmful to Thailand and Phuket.
It was at that point that Mr Cunningham asked about the SMS that he had received earlier. He said he planned to send it on to the Australian ambassador.
Mrs Sirirporn replied that that was “fine”. She then said she was unsure when exactly the Governor would be able available, and wondered therefore why Mr Cunningham was “still here”. It was not clear when, in using the word “here” she was referring to the meeting room or to Thailand in general.
Mr Cunningham then enquired why the police had kept the boy’s passport and why they frequently appeared to act as negotiators on behalf of jet-ski operators.
A representative from Karon Police station explained that it was standard practice to request the passport in order to make a copy, and that after the negotiation was complete, the passport was returned to the young Australian.
Mr Cunningham asked who had hit the young Australian. The jet-ski owner said that “the operator” had merely tried to prevent the Australian from leaving. When the consul asked who the operator was, Mrs Siriporn, who was translating, did not relay the question to Mr Sompoch. “I don’t know,” she said.
The issue of payment came up, in particular why the Australian lad had initially been asked to pay so much – B40,000 – and why damage to the jet-ski from sinking was not covered by the insurance company.
“It seems to me,” said Mr Cunningham, “that jet-skis overturning must be quite a common hazard.” It was for this reason that he suggested that the jet-ski operators need to take out better insurance with more effective coverage.
“The Australian Embassy would prefer that the jet-ski operators charge customers B5,000 for half an hour in order to afford proper insurance cover and prevent this kind of situation.”
Mrs Siriporn said that she would convey Mr Cunningham’s suggestions to the Governor.
At this point, Mr Cunningham left. A few minutes later the Governor arrived, along with Phuriphat Teerakulpisut, Chief of Marine Department, and the meeting between the jet-ski owner and the government officials resumed.
Insurance papers, along with photos of the jet-ski damage were examined and Mr Phuriphat said that in fact there was no need for Gov Maitree to pay any money.
It seems, however, that the insurance – and this is well known – pays up only when a jet-ski is involved in a collision, and not when it sinks without a collision.
But Walter “Wal” Brown, founder and coordinator of the Region 8 Tourist Police Volunteers, who was also involved in last night’s negotiations, believes that even the B16,000 that the Australian paid was too much.
“Such damage as happens when the jet-ski sinks for a few minutes [as in this case] can be fixed easily and cheaply for a maximum of B5,000.”
Today’s meeting at Provincial Hall was palpably tense, and the failure to inform Mr Cunningham of last night’s resolution of the dispute, along with the SMS from Mrs Siriporn, seems to suggest that the provincial authorities believe the involvement of the Australian Consul is not required in such issues and that the Phuket authorities were apparently already ‘on it’ and protecting and assisting foreign visitors.
Mr Cunningham later told The Phuket News that he was “relatively happy” with the resolution, but said that, again, he believed that if it hadn’t been for the intervention of Wal Brown and himself, another Australian citizen would most likely have been “shaken down” and forced to pay extortionate amounts to one of Phuket’s jet-ski operators.