Surin Beach, for years already notorious for its dangerous surf during the southwest monsoon from May through October, was especially dangerous yesterday from the heavy weather that pounded Phuket’s west coast over the weekend.
Waves up to two metres high were dumping on the beach, while deadly rip currents whisked swimmers away from the shore, local surfers and regular beachgoers told The Phuket News.
At about 5pm, a Filipino couple were caught in a rip current, requiring local surfer Danny Hyams to grab a long board and paddle out not once, but twice, to rescue the couple one by one.
The Filipino woman was found several hundred metres offshore by the good Samaritan surfer. Witnesses say the woman was in poor condition and she was rushed to hospital by ambulance.
Mr MaAnn told The Phuket News that he knew about the two tourists needing to be rescued by a local beachgoer, but was unable to give any description of their current physical condition.
He also gave no explanation why red flags that had already been posted along the beach had been removed, even though he knew there were no lifeguards on duty.
Instead, Mr Ma Ann today said he wanted to warn tourists that swimming at Surin Beach is dangerous.
“Please do not go into the water at Surin Beach until there are yellow-red flags posted on the beach,” he said.
The Phuket News confirmed that as of this morning there were no yellow-red ‘Safe Swim Zone” flags posted anywhere along Surin Beach.
“There are red flags clearly posted along on Surin Beach. Please don’t go into the water with bad weather like this,” Mr MaAnn said.
“Today, I have added (sic) 12 more red flags, which are marked ‘Do Not Swim’ in Thai and English language. I think, they are good enough for tourists to understand them,” he added.
The red flags have been posted high, about 1.8 to two metres, Mr MaAnn said.
However, again in contrast, photos provided to The Phuket News showed only plain red flags with no written warnings on them posted on tall sticks planted along the shore.
Mr MaAnn this morning, angered for being questioned, went at lengths to explain that there were no lifeguards on the beach yesterday – and today, and for the foreseeable future – because he had no choice due to decisions made beyond his control.
“There is an internal management issue which concerning the Comptroller General’s Department (CGD),” he said.
“The CGD opinion is to agree for LP Laikhum to provide lifeguards on Surin Beach (under a local council project funded) by Cherng Talay OrBorTor.
“I have presented issue to ask the opinion of officials at Phuket Provincial Office (headed by Phuket Governor Phakaphong Tavipatana), and they agree for LP Laikhum to be hired (to provide lifeguards,” Mr MaAnn said.
“I have sent an official reminder to LP Laikhum to work (sic) at Surin Beach. If they are not ready to work, I will continue to hire the previous lifeguard team (see story here),” he added.
“But I must wait for LP Laikhum to reply to me within one week,” Mr MaAnn said.
Mr MaAnn initially agreed to give The Phuket News contact information for “lifeguards”, but did not clarify whether the contact information would be for LP Laikhum or the lifeguards who patrolled beach last month.
Mr MaAnn called back later to retract the offer to allow The Phuket News access to confirm his version of events.
Meanwhile, International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA) Marine Safety Officer Daren Jenner delivered serious comments on the failure of Cherng Talay OrBorTor to provide lifeguards at Surin Beach – and the removal of red flags warning tourists it is not safe to enter the water.
“The ISLA condemns the acts of any public official who knowingly or willfully removes lifeguard services when lives are at stake. This incident is much more than a coincidence and should be investigated to the full extent of the law,” Mr Jenner said.
“In this case, it placed the lives of both victims and the humanitarian rescuer at stake,” he added.
The need to rescue the two Filipino tourists came as one Chinese tourist was swept into the sea south of Patong yesterday at Freedom Beach*, where no lifeguards on patrol.
The search for the tourist, Yin Lei, 35, from Henan, resumed this morning. (See story here.)
It also followed lifeguards at Patong Beach “closing” the beach to swimmers on Friday as surf conditions were too dangerous. (See story here.)
Lifeguards re-opened “safe swimming zones” marked with yellow-red flags along Patong Beach on Saturday, but with a stern warning from Patong Surf Life Saving Chief Somprasong Sangchart for people to obey lifeguards’ instructions and to obey the red “No Swimming” flags for their own safety. (See story here.)
Regardless, the rescues continued at Patong over the weekend with at least eight people rescued on Saturday and another three tourists – one Chinese, one Middle Eastern and one European – all requiring oxygen breathing assistance once brought safely back to shore to recover from exhaustion. (See video here.)
* CORRECTION: Not Tri Trang Beach, as initially reported. The error is sincerely regretted.