Twelve rescuers from China's Peaceland Foundation will join their Thai counterparts to hold a full-scale emergency drill on Thursday (Jan 23), Phuket governor Phakaphong Tavipatana told Bangkok Post (read story here).
The aim of the exercise is to help tourists feel safe, especially in the wake of the Phoenix tour boat accident in 2018, the worst maritime tragedies in Phuket, and an increase in drowning victims in 2019, Bangkok Post reports.
According to the newspaper, after the Phoenix disaster, many travellers, especially Chinese nationals, opted for other tourist destinations with the number of Chinese visitors to Phuket plunging by 20% leading to direct financial consequences for the island's economy.
After the death of the 47 Chinese tourists in 2018, Phuket lost about 42 billion baht in tourism revenue, mainly due to the drop in the number of Chinese tourists.
Despite moves to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy, "there's no agency that can fully restore confidence in maritime travel", Wichat Trairat, deputy chairman of the Thai-Chinese Cultural and Relationship Council, told Bangkok Post.
Dealing another severe blow to the island was the number of drowning victims soaring to 22 last year, up from just six in 2018, adds Bangkok Post quoting Phuket police.
According to local police, the number of deaths from drowning had been between six and 14 per year until 2018 and rose to 22 in 2019.
After studying water-related accidents off the coast of Phuket and the neighbouring provinces, Pol Maj Gen Kritsak Songmunnak, chief of Tourist Police Bureau's Subdivision 3, said drownings accounted for 36% of accidents, followed by unsafe boats.
He added that tourists themselves as well as slow rescue operations were to blame for most drowning cases, which usually occur during the monsoon season.
Adding more to the trouble is lack of rescue boats on the island, added Prapan Kanprasang, head of the Phuket office of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (DDPM-Phuket).
The province requires nine boats, namely three patrol boats, three fire boats and three medical boats, which will cost over 200 million baht.
The proposal has been forwarded to the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council but "we have yet to be granted the budget", Bankok Post quotes Mr Prapan as saying.
The Thai Maritime Enforcement Command Centre, which oversees six Andaman-rimmed provinces, including Phuket, plans to invite all stakeholders to a seminar to work out ways to cut maritime accidents in a more sustainable manner.