One of the tsunami-warning buoys has been scavenged for its components, while the other is still relaying real-time data, has come loose from its sea-floor mooring and is drifting aimlessly some 200km west of Phuket, Dr Prasong Thammapala, Acting Director of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (DDPM) Information Technology and Communication Center, told The Phuket News.
However, Dr Prasong urged people to not panic, as the “outer” warning buoy, located some 600 nautical miles west of Phuket, is just one of an array of tsunami-warning buoys that are still functioning.
The ‘Bay of Bengal array’ was created by an international project with different countries responsible for their own warning buoys, with all of them feeding real-time data to a tsunami-alert system monitored by the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), he said.
“The other warning buoys feed data into the same network. If an underwater earthquake strikes out there, we will be notified by the same system,” Dr Prasong explained.
“Please do not panic or be afraid that we will miss any signs of an earthquake,” he repeated.
The Indian Navy contacted the NDWC in January to inform them that the Thailand buoy in the Bay of Bengal array, designated ‘Station 23401’, had been damaged, Dr Prasong said.
“They took photos showing that the buoy had been broken into. The battery and the equipment were taken out,” he added.
Just making arrangements to repair the buoy has already proved a challenge, Dr Prasong said.
Many budgets have been stripped down to fund COVID-relief projects, and getting an expert to fly in from the US to make sure that the equipment re-installed into the buoy is properly calibrated to stream data into the NOAA-operated network is proving cumbersome.
“We can not fix this by ourselves. It involves sensitive information in order to connect to the satellite system. We need experts [involved with working with NOAA] to do this part,” Dr Prasong said.
“I have already contacted them in the US to send an expert to Thailand, but the COVID-19 restrictions are making this difficult,” he added.
Meanwhile, the second tsunami-warning buoy, ‘Station 23461’, is now missing from its usual location in the Andaman Sea, some 280km northwest of Phuket.
The good news is that the buoy is still transmitting real-data, including its GPS location, Dr Prasong explained.
“I think that a fishing boat has hit it again, breaking its mooring to the sea floor,” he said.
“But we are still receiving data from it, including its location, which makes it much easier to find and return it to its proper location.”