Just hours after it was posted online last Sunday morning (Jan 14), reports began coming in about a tourist boat exploding at Viking Cave Koh Phi Phi, injuring 19 of the 31 people on board, many of them severely. As if to further highlight the issue, just two days later (Jan 16) nine more tourists were injured when two tour speedboats collided off the east coast of Phuket.
Following the first explosion and ensuing fire on the tour boat, Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong on Monday (Jan 15) ordered a full marine safety sweep at all privately operated piers in Phuket following a hastily convened meeting on marine safety.
At the meeting on Monday, Governor Norraphat noted that privately operated piers and boat terminals were overlooked by a recent crackdown on marine safety at all government-run piers in Phuket and ordered Vice Governor Prakob Wongmaneerung to check private piers for marine safety.
“Every boat that departs from a pier must be checked with the date, time, boat name, number of passengers recorded – and the most important thing are the names of passengers. We have to know the destinations of each boat in order to make sure it does departs from its scheduled route,” said Governor Norraphat at the meeting.
While Governor Norraphat, should be commended for taking some sort of action, from his statement it appears that he has failed to comprehend the root causes of these accidents – poorly maintained boats and poorly trained boat operators.
This should not be difficult to grasp given that they are precisely the same causes identified as those that were responsible for the alarming string of bus accidents on Patong Hill and several other parts of the island last year.
It seems once again, that practical steps to improve marine safety over the long term, such as stricter boat registration and maintenance checks and improved training and licensing of operators, will be passed over in favour of face-saving, short-term and woefully ineffective measures.
One wonders how many boat, bus, tuk-tuk and taxi accidents, killing how many tourists, would have to occur simultaneously to force an effective ground up overhaul of transport safety in Phuket.