Worapoj Lomlim, Chief of the Hat Noppharat Thara – Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, told The Phuket News today (Sept 22) that the three boats returned to the same popular tourist site and were instantly caught by national park officials and fined B1,000 each.
“The three boat drivers returned on Wednesday (Sept 20). They did not drop their anchors this time as officials are watching over the area,” he said.
“They [the boat captains] paid a fine of B1,000 each. If they do it again they may have their boat operator’s license revoked and would need to be granted permission to regain it,” he said.
“Most of them are based in Phuket. We have notified the boat companies that their boat supervisors have committed an offence,” Mr Worapoj said.
“The B1,000 fine is in accordance with Section 18 of the National Park Act of 1961 (2504),” he confirmed.
“Their licenses were not revoked this time. They are still allowed to operate their boats. We have recorded the details of the drivers and their boat companies. It is the first time they have been caught doing this, next time they will face harsher punishments,” Mr Worapoj assured.
“We still have yet to catch the other four or five boat drivers,” Mr Worapoj added.
However, Mr Worapoj refused to name the boat companies involved in damaging the coral reef.
He also did not elaborate on any action against the companies or any action against the drivers themselves for ignoring an official order to present themselves to the national park chief as instructed.
The boat drivers ignored the initial order to present themselves, filed Monday last week (Sept 11). (See story here).
The seven speedboats were caught dropping their anchors on coral reef as tourists snorkelled nearby in a video supplied to The Phuket News, dated September 3. (See story here).
Meanwhile, Director of the Department of Marine and Coastal resources (DMCR) Phuket office’s Conservation Division Suchart Rattanarueangsri explained that the DMCR was not involved or responsible for this case.
“The very little fine amount in this case may be because the Hat Nopparat- Mu Ko Phi Phi national park abides by a different set of regulations to the DMCR,” said Mr Suchart today (Sept 22).
“They are responsible for this case due to the location of the offence, it is in their area of responsibility. They may have different punishments,” he added.
Mr Suchart’s stance on Phuket tour boat operators breaking coral-protection laws today flies in the face of marine officials earlier this year forcing a Chinese tourist to pay a B100,000 fine for catching a baby parrotfish in a bottle and a Russian grandmother tourist spending two nights in detention cells because she couldn’t afford to pay the B100,000 bail required by police after she was caught feeding fish.
DMCR Phuket officials earlier this year posted signs at Koh Racha Yai’s three main bays warning tour guides and tourists of the consequences of breaking marine conservation rules. (See story here.)
After a couple of “misunderstandings”, Chinese tourist Huang Yongjia, 35, was caught with two baby Parrotfish in a plastic bottle and was charged and fined B100,000 for his infraction. (See story here.)
Officials tried the same with 53-year-old Russian tourist Olga Smirnova, but as she did not have the B100,000, she spent two nights in police lockup while awaiting trial for feeding bread to fish at Racha Yai. (See story here.)
However, after Ms Smirnova’s dire situation, held legal hostage in Thailand while awaiting trial and sentencing of a token fine for her misdemeanour, officials changed tack and started focusing on tour guides and tour operators.