Governor Norraphat Plodthong called for the after-dark ban at an emergency meeting held yesterday (June 15) at the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Phuket headquarters (DDPM-Phuket).
At the meeting were representatives from the Phuket Lifeguard Service, the Phuket Protection and Prevention Office, the Tourism Business and Guide Registration and the Phuket Hotels Association as well as officers from the Royal Thai Police.
“I want officials to treat this situation seriously and to watch out for tourists,” Gov Norraphat told the meeting.
“My goal is to have zero drownings in Phuket,” he said.
“Tourists ignoring our warnings is the main issue – especially Russian and Chinese tourists,” explained Watcharin Patomwatthanapong, Acting Chief of Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO), which oversees the government project to have lifeguards at Phuket beaches.
“And they like to go to the beach at night and get drunk,” he added.
To this, Gov Norraphat noted that in order to protect all tourists, “I think officials should set up a special regulation to ban tourists from the beach after 6:30pm.”
Gov Norraphat also called for Phuket lifeguards to extend their patrol hours to 7:30pm each night to ensure no people enter the water after dark.
“This would only be to check the surf and ask people to leave the beach,” he said. “After that, extra force from local municipalities, police and volunteers will inspect beaches to ensure the ban is enforced.”
Gov Norraphat also called on hotels and resorts to do more to inform their guests of the dangers of the surf.
“Please have video presentations warning about dangerous waves in reception areas and inside guest rooms,” he told the Phuket Hotels Association representative.
Gov Norraphat added that a budget is being sought to install revolving warning lights and quality CCTV along beachfronts to warn people of dangerous surf conditions.
“This is to warn tourists they are entering a danger zone,” he said.
Gov Norraphat ordered DDPM-Phuket Acting Chief Mongkol Temrat to spearhead the campaign to improve beach surf safety and to report all problems – and any progress on any solutions – to him as quickly as possible.
Drowning in red tape
Meanwhile, Prathaiyut Chuayuan, Chief of the Phuket Lifeguard Service, called for Gov Norraphat to look into the range of difficulties Phuket lifeguards are facing, and their current push to develop a professional life-saving service with lifeguards trained and equipped to international standards.
“I wish the Phuket Governor would think about our requirements. I have just handed the list to him before he left the meeting today (June 15),” Mr Prathaiyut told The Phuket News after the meeting.
“The Governor asking us to work extra hours we will have to do by command,” he noted, though for years Phuket lifeguards have pleaded for more funds to protect swimmers at the beaches.
On this front, Phuket lifeguards have not received support. Instead, the PPAO last December cut their budget by 10%. (See The Phuket News page 1 story here.)
That budget cut prompted Henry Reyes, President of the International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA), to appeal directly to Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-ocha to take urgent action to support Phuket’s lifeguards in order to stem the growing tide of drownings at the island’s beaches.
That plea was heard by Deputy Prime Minister Gen Thanasak Patimapragorn, who ordered officials to take steps to support Phuket’s vital lifeguard service during a visit to the island in March. (See story here.)
Deputy PM Thanasak also called for Phuket’s lifeguards to “let me know what you need”, which was responded with a full written formal request in April to develop the island’s lifeguards into a professional, qualified life saving service. (See story here.)
Despite the top-level order to support Phuket’s lifeguards, Gov Norraphat yesterday declined to comment about the level of support provided.
“I do not have a problem with supporting them, but for this issue you must ask the PPAO, which runs the project under a local budget,” he said.
Mr Watcharin yesterday remained steadfast in his diminished view of what support lifeguards need, saying that he maintains his belief that Phuket lifeguards have enough resources to perform their life-saving duties.