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Phuket Opinion: Stymied by a new idea

PHUKET: The debate over whether the floating party barge ‘Yona Beach Club’ should be approved or not continues, but what cannot be debated is how unfairly the operator of the party barge has been treated by being led on a merry dance by officials.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 16 April 2023, 09:00AM

Photo: THAI-MECC 3

Photo: THAI-MECC 3

The operators of the vessel have presented a novel idea to officials, who are bamboozled in what to do simply because no specific laws exist to guide them. As there are no precedents, they just don’t know whether to say yes or no.

The vessel has now been inspected three times and the operators still have not been given a clear answer on how they should proceed, or whether to proceed at all.

The Phuket News stands by the use of the word “raid” in describing the third inspection conducted earlier this month. The Phuket News was later told that it was a pre-arranged inspection by multiple departments. That’s fine. But what the officials involved did was piggyback an actual investigation into what had been done on the barge, seemingly in the hope of discovering a malfeasance that they could use as an excuse to shut the operation down. 

If that is not true, we greatly look forward to an explanation from officials as to why kitchen staff were questioned about legal workers when the inspection was allegedly to determine structural integrity, effectiveness of waste management systems and passenger safety.

The officials were sniffing for something illegal, but found nothing, as alluded to in the Bangkok Post version of the story, noting that the ’raid’ followed the Governor being informed that the party barge intended to operate without first gaining full permission.

On that note, what Thai Maritime Enforcement Command Center Region 3 (THAI-MECC 3) – the agency initially set up to combat human trafficking in Phuket’s commercial fishing fleet – is doing involved in inspecting the Yona Beach Club is anyone’s guess. After how the now-infamous ’Seasteading’ incident was handled by the Navy in 2019, perhaps they should be left out of this entanglement.

When no one knows what is legal and what is not, as with the ‘Seasteading’ incident, the powers that be ten to just send in the Navy to make sure that local officials are not held accountable for any decisions made or any action taken – though it would be a great stretch of the imagination to brand the party barge a threat to national security.

While the pretense continues, Phuket Marine Office and Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) officials have now inspected the vessel three times – and still have not delivered an answer of yes or no – or again what even more must be done in the hope of the vessel being given permission to operate.

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Yona Beach Club has now been told twice to make changes/upgrades/improvements to the vessel, and they have complied, hence leading to the third inspection. At this stage it would be reasonable to presume that officials have set down guidelines that, if met, would lead to the barge being approved. Yet that is still not the case. This is what is unfair in how officials are treating the floating beach club operator. It’s not a date. This is about laws and regulations. People either meet them and are approved, or they’re not.

Phuket officials have been presented an exceptional idea that they have no idea how to process simply because of the two classic reasons Thai bureaucracy repeatedly fails: 1) the officials have not been taught what to do when presented with original ideas; and 2) the officials are fearful of making a decision that other people might not like, namely their superiors. Hence, they have no clue what to do, or are just frozen with fright.

There are obvious, serious and genuine concerns for safety and environmental concerns, especially regarding alcohol being served on board. About this there is no doubt, but Phuket officials are not alone in this.

A similar venture being launched near Cannes, in the Côte d’Azur region in Southeastern France, is facing similar resistance by local officials. That floating beach club aims to carry 350 guests, whereas Yona Beach Club is aiming for 500 pax, yet the local mayor over there is to appeal directly to the relevant ministry to intervene in the approval granted to the vessel on the basis of personal safety and environmental concerns.

Deciding whether or not to approve the Yona Beach Club requires official to either review, and possibly overhaul, a wide range laws and regulations regarding marine vessels, or to create an entirely new class of vessel altogether, which might be the easier option. Or they could ban them outright.

There are many issues, and many options, for officials to consider. First and foremost is deciding whether the party barge is a boat or a floating restaurant. Safety is certainly another, as well as how to regulate or limit the alcohol served on board, and how that will affect any laws regarding alcohol consumption on any boats in operation in the province, either commercially or privately.

The simple solution would be to create an entirely new class of permit. That way local officials can set down a set of requirements that if not met operation can be denied. They can also limit the number of such vessels which may be in operation in Phuket, and in which areas. Of note, this is where designating Phuket as a special administrative region shines. Phuket can have rules that specifically relate to operations in Phuket without having any effect elsewhere in the country. Other major tourist beach destinations such as Pattaya can decide for themselves whether they want to approve such vessels.

In the meantime, the ongoing saga for Yona Beach Club continues, situation that could have been avoided from the start. The answer from the get-go should have been ‘all stop’ for now. Not leading the Yona Beach Club operator to keep spending money when meeting the requirements that officials keep rolling out to delay the project provides no certainty that the new tourist attraction will eventually be approved.

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Kurt | 18 April 2023 - 10:47:33

More floating barges coming? Put them at Chalong-,other piers, and next to ferry services to Phi Phi and so. Don't ancher them ofshore. Operation costs for shuttling guests by licensed (!)tenders will be enormous. ( boats/crew) Also the safety is more granted by mooring them alongside.

Kurt | 18 April 2023 - 09:01:55

Why not mooring the party barge at end of Rawai Pier? That done, makes area, together with Gypsy fish restaurants, a more attractive tourist area. Also passing by yachts can drop anchor and have a eating/relaxing time on the barge. Plans for anchoring barge in horse shoe Patong Bay will be a disaster. No current flow of the already very polluted beach water.

Timothy | 18 April 2023 - 07:20:15

I agree with ematt's assessment. It would be a floating dumpster fire. If they allow this stupid floating party barge, the floodgates will be open and there will be a hundred other idiots building similar things. Please Phuket officials...for once ignore the envelopes and do the right thing. 

ematt | 17 April 2023 - 18:04:30

The editor thinks it's "an exceptional idea". Everybody else thinks it's a floating dumpster fire.

Boatie | 17 April 2023 - 11:34:16

The bay north of Yamu is an area of seagrass beds vital for dugong.
The area is also a Mangrove Conservation area. Many fishermen earn their living catching prawns in one the best fisheries in South Thailand.
The prospect of partially treated effluent being pumped into the sea is frightening. The Prince of Songkhla University regularly studies this area and should be consulted.

prince1099 | 17 April 2023 - 09:41:34

The operators did not recognize or consider their unique opportunity: They could have long opened and launched. No permit. Then, bamboozled officials would have rushed in and shut the operation down . (Round1).  Then the vessel’s owners would have a reason to use the justice system, to test: There is no permit in existence to cover the vessel. And could turn their incompetence against them. Sinc

Kurt | 17 April 2023 - 08:13:58

Seen the massive violence experience of the 2004 Tsunami it is doubtful or any precautions/evacuation plan during a Tsunami works. Of course, crew boat drills and a muster plan in case of fire on board is advised.

Dennardak | 16 April 2023 - 17:19:08

What is the safety precautions and evacuation in case of a tsunami?

Markus111 | 16 April 2023 - 12:43:01

The french people, who built this monstrosity should have asked for permission before they built it and not after. Now they park this monstrosity in front of our villas in Cape Yamu and spoil the natural calm view from our villas. We as owners of the property in Yamu will protest against this monstrosity staying here and spoiling the peaceful area. 

Old guy | 16 April 2023 - 12:22:09

Not surprising.
The education system keeps them ignorant. 
Thailand's education system only teaches them to do as they're told. It doesn't teach them to think, reason, or ask why. That's why Thailand has only made only  one meaningful invention: the surgical bed for elephants. 

Fascinated | 16 April 2023 - 11:32:32

its pretty clear that until the envelopes are big enough they will be stymied. i've seen it happen over and over. One thing that hasn't been mentioned is the noise pollution from the annoying 'thump-thump music' that is inevitable. just look at the noise pollution from a 'notorious' beach club in kamala that gets away with it.

phkt-2016 | 16 April 2023 - 10:52:36

Did you investigate if the Yona Operators contacted the relevant departments finding facts if such a vessel can be build and legally operated? Or did they just build and than seek for permits?

Kurt | 16 April 2023 - 10:00:08

So, the hesitation of all officials what to do makes them just doing same inspection after inspection. Just a show of ignorance, hiding incompetence . It seems that the lawmakers have to decide now, according existing laws, or that floating thing is a barge or a vessel, and handle it from there. If the law not provide assistance/answers, a new law article/act must be designed. Simple.


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