V/Adm Cherngchai also serves as Director of the Third Area Command’s Maritime Enforcement Coordination Centre (THAI-MECC Area 3), a body set up to regulate and enforce laws protecting workers in the fishing industry in the wake of the fishing slavery scandal that rocked the Thai fishing industry a handful of years ago and led to Thailand facing dramtic economic punishments from the EU and the US if the country did not improve its efforts to prevent human trafficking.
Today, the focus was on COVID-19 and preventing the spread of the virus throughout the fishing industry, and came after an “illegal, unreported and unregulated” (IUU) fishing boat seized by the Navy in 2016 blazed near the harbour last night. (See story here.)
During today’s visit to Phuket Fishing Pier, V/Adm Cherngchai and his entourage visited the Phuket Port In and Port Out Control Center (Phuket PIPO), commanded by Capt Kriangkrai Lai-ngen of the Royal Thai Navy.
The visit was held to give the officers encouragement, hear about their problems firsthand, hand out virus personal protective equipment and to observe fishing boat inspections.
“The operation result is in accordance with the regulations. Staff have good morale,” was the official appraisal of operations at the centre.
“Although all land, air and sea ports of entry to Phuket have been closed due to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the fisheries industry is allowed to continue to operate as they provide essential consumer goods. No other marine activities are allowed in Phuket,” V/Adm Cherngchai explained.
“Fishing is an important industry which directly affects the economy of Phuket – and it has not been affected by COVID-19,” V/Adm Cherngchai proclaimed.
Thai-MECC Area 3 officers instructed the PIPO officials to wear protective equipment while conducting inspections, and handed them face shields and sanitiser.
PIPO officers were also ordered to make sure the fishing fleet also took measures to protect their crews – and not to bring “risk groups" into the area.
At present, about 240 fishing boats enter and leave Phuket waters each day, of which about 90 boats are inspected. Only one to two of these are considered among “risk groups” that need to be inspected, it was explained during the visit today.
“Thai-MECC Area 3 is worried about the fishermen who live close together. If an infection occurs, it will affect the entire boat, affect port use, and affect fishermen and the whole system of Phuket,” V/Adm Cherngchai noted.
“Therefore, there are precautionary measures to prevent the infection of COVID-19, which includes repeated screening [for the virus],” he said.
“No fishermen have been found infected with COVID-19,” V/Adm Cherngchai repeated.
Similar measures are in force in other Andman provinces, such as Phang Nga and Satun, V/Adm Cherngchai explained.
As many boats cannot return to their home ports due to the ban on all boats travelling between provincial waters, many boats are still operating from the provinces they were in when the ban came into force, he said.
“Thai-MECC Area 3 supports the screening of fishing vessels in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on all fishing boats in the Andaman Sea,” V/Adm Cherngchai said.