The frightening prospect of having no lifeguards on Phuket’s beaches in October, one of the most dangerous months of the year to swim along the west coast, saw Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong this morning order the PPAO to “figure it out”.
The order prompted the PPAO council to raise the issue at a meeting just hours later today.
“The PPAO can provide Phuket lifeguards ourselves. We do not need Phuket Lifeguard Service Co Ltd anymore,” PPAO Council President Teera Jiasakun told the meeting today.
“We will do it by ourselves. Please, Mr Watcharin [PPAO Acting Chief Watcharin Patomwatthanapong], go and inform the Phuket Governor that we will do this and mange everything on time on Oct 1.
“I want to tell the public that we can make tourists confident about safety on the beach,” he added.
Mr Teera accused the PLS of financial mismanagement.
“We have already approved a budget of B19.8mn for lifeguards. This all depends on how the company manages the budget,” he said.
However, Mr Teera provided no details on how the PPAO was to achieve having its own lifeguards on the sands by this weekend.
The Phuket News notes that the PPAO has never taken an active role in providing lifeguard services. The role has always been contracted out.
PLS President Prathaiyut Chuayuan announced on Monday (Sept 25) that the lifeguards had refused the contract offered for tender by the PPAO. (See story here.)
The dispute came to a head after the budget for their services was quietly cut yet again at PPAO council meeting in August.
The budget proposed for the coming year amounted to B19.8 million, Mr Prathaiyut told The Phuket News in an exclusive interview last week.
However, that budget now comes with the expectation of lifeguards patrolling beaches for an extra two months of the year, not just during the dangerous southwest monsoon season, and with Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong’s order earlier this year for them to extend their patrols by one hour later each day, he explained. (See story here.)
“We have decided that we can’t accept this budget, which is less than last year,” Mr Prathaiyut confirmed.
“September 30 is the last day of our current contract. We will not work from October 1. From that day tourists will see the sign ‘No lifeguard on duty’ on every beach in Phuket.”
Mr Prathaiyut explained that the PLS would accept a budget of about B22mn, but only to provide services for 10 months. Traditionally, lifeguards do not patrol Phuket’s beaches during the northeast monsoon, which coincides with the tourism high season, when surf along the west coast is flat and safe to swim.
“However, this figure does not include equipment,” Mr Prathaiyut said.
Mr Prathaiyut’s wife and PLS Vice President Vitanya Chuayuan on Monday noted that, “The budget for a professional lifeguard service should be B2.5mn per month.” The estimate indicates that a budget of B30mn per year would be required to maintain year-round patrols by 98 lifeguards at the island’s 12 busiest tourist beaches.
Meanwhile, Mr Prathaiyut told The Phuket News this week pointed out that just having lifeguards on Phuket’s beaches had saved hundreds of tourists’ lives. From January 1 to September 25 this year, lifeguards rescued 337 people – 35 Thais and 302 foreigners – from dangerous surf. The death toll this year stood lower than years past at just seven, he said.
To this, the Surin-Bangtao Surf Lifesaving Club (SBSLC) this week confirmed to The Phuket News that the club plans to continue the current level of lifeguard coverage voluntarily on the beaches they patrol – Laem Singh, Surin, Bang Tao and Layan – after Oct 1, while continuing to reject the current offer as inadequate.
The SBSLC also stated that the club intends to stand with their fellow lifeguards in rejecting the current offer, and asked for the Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO) to step up and bring the entire service up to international standards.
“We will see if the Phuket Lifeguard Service also advocates for this,” one representative told The Phuket News.
The current standoff over what is required to ensure Phuket beaches are patrolled by professional, qualified lifeguards follows Deputy Prime Minister Gen Thanasak Patimapragorn in only March this year visiting Phuket in person and ordering officials to take steps to support Phuket’s vital lifeguard service.
“Make a list of what you need for me,” Gen Thanasak told Mr Prathaiyut during the visit, also attended by Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul and attended by PPAO Acting Chief Watcharin.
Gen Thanasak also ordered then-Phuket Governor Chokchai Dejamornthan to follow up what Phuket Lifeguard Service wants. (See story here.)