The news broke yesterday (Feb 12) when local marine conservation group Go Eco Phuket posted photos online showing the divers touching corals reportedly at Shark Point, also called Hin Musang, off Koh Yao Yai east of Phuket, about halfway to Phi Phi Island.
The photos were reportedly taken at 5:30pm on Feb 7.
The report prompted officials from the Phuket office of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) to start tracking down the tour company that provided the tour for the divers.
“We have identified the owner of the boat used in providing the dive tour and are trying to track down which tour company was involved so we can hear their explanation of why the divers were touching the corals. Then, we can move on to who to hold responsible for this,” Watcharin Thintalang, Director of the DMCR Phuket office, told The Phuket News yesterday.
However, Mr Watcharin added, “There is no excuse for this. Just touching corals can damage them, and that damage can spread to other corals.”
Go Eco Phuket noted in its post on Facebook that the photos were provided by a foreign diver, “This is the third time that we have been notified by a foreign diver about this boat.
“Don’t say that the boat owner didn’t know or the captain didn’t see it because you take the full money from the divers that destroy Thai resources.”
The boat involved in the Shark Point corals handling on Feb 7 was identified by the foreign diver as the North Star, which found itself in hot water just last month after a group of different divers from the boat were caught hold a sign congratulating a Japanese diver for completing 200 dives on a coral head in Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park near Phi Phi Island, on Jan 26. (See story here.)
In response to that incident, Vivaan Vichaidit, Manager of Happy Star Tour Co Ltd, told The Phuket News, “We warned those divers already. They did not listen to our advice.
“I was very angry when I found out about this. Of course we did not want this to happen,” she said.
Ms Vivaan said such instances were beyond her company’s control. “We always tell people going on the boat to make sure they do not damage any corals or any other forms of coastal and marine life. We do our job the best we can,” she said.
“Our company just rents the boat to clients. We don’t hold any dive courses or classes for tourists at all. Most of tour companies that rent the boat manage their own dive instructors,” Ms Vivaan added. (See story here.)
In response to the most recent incident, Ms Vivaan told The Phuket News today, “Although the Facebook user who posted those images, ‘Tom Sorensen’ got the date and the location wrong, we do admit that the divers in the photos were using our boat.
“The incident occurred on Feb 9 and not Feb 7. If you look at the Facebook page of Tom Sorensen, who posted the original images, you can see that he has deleted them due to comments explaining why the divers had to hold on to some of the rocks in the sea.
“All of the accounts of the divers involved agree that this case was a safety measure. The dive occurred at what we call ‘tourism waters’, it is a shallow diving site and at the time the images were taken, speedboats were passing above the divers, which is dangerous.
“Therefore the divers had to get closer to the bottom of the sea for their own safety. It is called a ‘safety stop’,” she said.
“Also, if you notice in the photos, there is some coral, however most of the area is rock. Where the divers are holding on is mainly rocks,” she added.
“However, the divers are prepared to deal with the case and give their testimonies to the DMCR.”
“From the side of the company, we have to also be a part of the investigation as it was our boat that was used. We (the company) are in the process of getting everyone’s testimonies together to pass on to the officials,” she said.
“You can’t only care about corals, you have to also care about people’s safety,” added Ms Vivaan.
Regarding the Jan 29 incident, she confirmed that all information of the divers’ identities were passed on to officials, as she said she would do.
“I passed all information on to the officials regarding the previous case, and I know that they arrested and fined one of the divers, a Korean man. I am not sure how much the fine was, however he was sent back to his country.”
“I am not sure about the Japanese man, I am not following the case. I simply passed the information along.”