Governor Narong explained to the press that the driver of the boat faces up to three years in jail or a fine of up to B60,000, or both, if he is found guilty of negligence that resulted in the collision.
First, let’s repeat “if” the driver is found guilty. Second, if the Governor’s move to announce serious possible penalties for such life-threatening behaviour is to count for anything, officials will have to break from the long-standing tradition of never announcing what penalties actually befall those held high as examples of justice being served.
It seems only obvious to prove to the public that justice has been served, though considering the actual penalty the court may hand down, that might just be a little too embarrassing.
But let’s not hold our breath for that. The Governor on Friday even shied away from actually naming the boat driver, who was plainly identified in the list names of those admitted to hospital for treatment of injuries sustained in the collision as Satit Maschai. That omission might be a better indicator of where this whole public performance is likely to end up.
Of course we will overlook the complicity of water safety officials, including Navy personnel and officers from the Phuket Marine Office itself, led by Phuket Marine Chief Natchapong Pranit, for not taking any action to enforce their own edict warning boat operators of the safety regulations in place – issued only just over two weeks ago.
Mr Natchapong publicly issued a notice, four pages in total, informing all boat operators of the safety regulations in effect ahead of the long weekend to celebrate HM The King’s birthday. However, after that weekend, tour speedboat operators went back to business as usual.
The notice was an oddity in itself. It was publicly posted on May 2, but marked as signed and dated on Apr 28, a week after a foreign passenger was injured by a “close pass” by a speedboat estimated to be travelling at about 25 knots in the approach to the channel leading to Royal Phuket Marina and Phuket Boat Lagoon.
The Phuket Marine Office made no public statement about that incident, despite the same harrowing nature of the reckless driving by tour speedboat operators using the channel there – and the fact the a tour speedboat collision in that same channel killed two children, a 12-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, on holiday with their families.
Apparently killing children is not enough to inspire Mr Natchapong to take reckless driving by tour speedboat operators seriously until there is yet another accident. Make no mistake, the fact that no one was killed in the collision with the channel marker on Wednesday is dumb luck.
Phuket marine officials can also add to their list the fact that in response to this week’s collision so far there has been no mention that by law since 2015 all passenger boats in Phuket carrying 24 or more passengers must have AIS (automatic identification system) tracking installed and switched on when in transit, relaying data to the ‘Phuket Yacht Control Centre’ at Chalong Pier, where inbound and outgoing boats are monitored.
The officers stationed at the ‘Phuket Yacht Control Centre’ at Chalong Pier even have a clear view of the tour speedboats flagrantly speeding across Chalong Bay, and still nothing has been done to curtail the dangerous behaviour of tour speedboats drivers.
Mr Natchapong, either the Phuket Marine Office has a special relationship of understanding with tour speedboat operators that everyone has to guess at, or tour speedboat operators are simply snubbing you and your entire office. You are just not important enough for them to do what you say the law is. They just don’t care.
The response by emergency services to the collision on Wednesday was excellent. It was nice to see senior local officials present on site as the injured were brought ashore, and the public reports of the investigation by officials so far has been a positive step forward in proving to the public that water safety, especially that involving tourists, is being taken seriously.
However, all that is only after the accident has happened. It is time to send a clear message to tour speedboat drivers in the hope of preventing the next one.
Capt B | 22 May 2023 - 00:14:06