Leading the Chinese delegation at the Pearl Hotel in Phuket Town were Zhou Haicheng, who as the Chinese Consul-General in Songkhla is the the lead Chinese government representative for all Southern Thailand, along with Zhang Xinhong, the Director of the Bangkok office of the powerful China National Tourism Administration (CNTA).
Also present to hear the statement was Ma Cuihong, who as Deputy Consul-General of the Chinese Consulate-general in Songkhla also heads the Phuket Consular Office of the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China.
Consul Zhou made it plain that the top priority of the delegation was to prevent any further Chinese tourists from drowning.
“A lot of Chinese drowning in the Andaman region is the main issue,” he said.
Mr Zhou called for all Chinese tourists engaging in water activities to be warned of the dangers of drowning. He even called tour companies to test tourists on whether they understand the warnings before they are allowed to enter the water.
“This way the tourists will have better knowledge of water safety and this will reduce the number of drowning incidents,” he said.
Mr Zhou also called for measures to ensure marine transport was safe. “Especially speedboats, which must have rescue equipment on board to save tourists’ lives in emergencies.” he said.
“Tour companies must make sure that boat crews and the equipment on board is in perfect working order for each trip,” he added.
Specifically regarding beach safety, Mr Zhou said plainly: “Tourists need more lifeguards on each beach to ensure faster response times when needed. This will help to save tourists lives.”
Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong, in front of representatives of at least 16 Phuket government offices, defended the efforts by local officials.
“Officials work hard on enforcing the rules for tourists’ safety, on the road and in the sea,” Gov Norraphat said.
“Especially in the hiring of lifeguards, which is now looked after by local administration organisations (OrBorTor and municipalities) but funded by the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO, or OrBorJor),” Governor Norraphat said.
However, it was not explained to the delegation that funding from the PPAO has not yet arrived as confirmed by all the municipalities contacted by The Phuket News less than two weeks ago, including government concession contract holder LP Laikhum Co Ltd. (See story here.)
“Lifeguards will be certified to international standard,” Governor Norraphat added, again not recognising that a beach audit by International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA) Marine Safety Warrant Officer for Phuket Daren Jenner had rated all but Patong Beach as a “Fail” in terms of adequate beach safety coverage. (See story here.)
“I expect our effective working will increase Chinese tourists’ confidence in Phuket province,” Gov Norraphat said.
In turn, Consul Zhou politely thanked the Governor.
“Thank you so much for paying attention to Chinese tourists’ concerns, including in incidents when Chinese tourists were in accidents or died. Phuket officials look after Chinese tourists very well after they are in an accident and are in hospital.
“I hope that following up on all these issues will hopefully reduce the number of Chinese tourists dying,” Mr Zhou said.
Of note, the visit yesterday by Consul-General Zhou and Director Zhang came just two weeks after their own embassy delegation visited Phuket in person to asses beach safety and other safety concerns involving Chinese tourists.
During that visit, Zhou Guangxu, Third Secretary and Vice Consul of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, and Li Chunlin, Counselor and Consul General from Embassy of The People’s Republic of China in The Kingdom of Thailand, expressly called for trained, experienced lifeguards to patrol Phuket’s beaches. (See stories here and here.)
The visit yesterday also came just nine days after ISLA Marine Safety Warrant Officer Mr Jenner delivered the beach safety audit to the Chinese embassy in Bangkok in person. (See story here.)
Consul Zhou and Director Zhang coming to Phuket to urge officials to take better precautions ot preserve Chinese tourists’ safety is becoming a regular event.
They were in Phuket only in March this year to plea for Phuket officials to do more to improve the safety of tourists visiting the island and surrounding region. (See story here.)
In response, although the PPAO has yet to publicly reveal what money it has to support lifeguards and to make those funds available so local municipalities can actually have lifeguards on patrol, some agencies are stepping up to spend impressive budgets on the issue.
Only yesterday did it become clear that local officials are looking to splash out B140 million on a CCTV project that is claimed will help lifeguards identify swimmers in distress in strong surf. (See story here.)