The reaction was not even for tourists’ confidence in the wake of the Phoenix tour boat disaster last year.
Short memories have to reach back just two years to recall Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his administration being panned heavily by the Thai media for bungling for the lack of warning and lack of response to the immense flooding that caused widespread havoc across the same east-coast southern provinces for a whole month from early Dec 2016 through to early January 2017, killing at least 85 people in the process.
The most heart-wrenching of those deaths was that of a 5-year-old girl in Prachuap Khiri Khan who was swept away as her family tried to scramble onto the roof of a passenger van they were in while trying to escape the floods. Her body was found more than 200 metres away.
The weather warnings for Pabuk were appropriate, and did not overplay the severity of the storm, unlike many reports in foreign media. But it did warn people of what might well happen. And for Phuket, Pabuk did come close. Krabi Town, just across Phang Nga Bay, suffered some minor flooding from heavy rains which dissipated by the time the storm system passed us by.
But most importantly, banning all boats from leaving shore in the face of uncertainty was the right thing to do. It simply was not worth risking more lives for the sake of making money. And it wasn’t just tour boats that were banned, even the island’s commercial fishing fleet was also forced to stay in port instead of risking potentially deadly wind and waves on the bay. That’s more than just Thai lives kept safe, that kept many poor migrant workers safe too.
Safety in Thailand’s marine industry, and especially among the tour boats and speedboats, have a long way to go before reaching international standards, namely the designs of large boats still allowed to put to sea and even the so-called “life jackets” in use that force their wearers to float face down.
But the action taken by the government over Pabuk potentially saved many lives, and that’s a good start. Now let’s see what they can do with the relief effort.