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The collapse of Phuket’s lifeguards

PHUKET: The collapse of Phuket’s lifeguards’ ability to protect swimmers came literally this week with two lifeguard watch-points succumbing to the angry sea.

Saturday 11 August 2018, 04:38PM

The lifeguard tower at Kata Beach and the lifeguard watch-station tent at Nai Yang Beach have collapsed, destroyed by waves, as any official support for Phuket’s lifeguards continues to be absent. Photos: Supplied

The lifeguard tower at Kata Beach and the lifeguard watch-station tent at Nai Yang Beach have collapsed, destroyed by waves, as any official support for Phuket’s lifeguards continues to be absent. Photos: Supplied

The lifeguard tower at Kata* has fallen to rapid beach erosion while a lifeguard station tent at Nai Yang Beach has also been swallowed by the waves.

The fall of the watchtowers comes as lifeguards at Kata* this morning (Aug 11) carried out yet another rescue, with the result of whether the person in danger lived or died yet to be confirmed.

That rescue came lass than 24 hours after a man was pulled from the deadly surf unconscious and unresponsive at Nai Harn Beach, in the south of the island, yesterday (Aug 10). A foreign woman and a foreign man led the efforts to carry out CPR on the man on the sand as tourists looked on. Again, the fate of that man, a foreigner, remains to be confirmed.

Both drowning incidents highlight how Phuket’s fractured lifeguard coverage has left lethal gaps in the lifeguards’ ability to protect people from the surf during the southwesterly monsoon months of May through October, nevermind prevent them from even entering the dangerous surf.

Only on Monday this week a 7-year-old boy was pulled from surf at Nai Harn. Again, the surf rescue was carried out by a foreigner, a female teacher living in Phuket who asked to remain anonymous.

“I gave him CPR and a Thai woman helped me… and this continued for four minutes as the lifeguards stood and watched over us and then brought oxygen tank when he wasn’t even taking air yet…

“It’s like they didn’t know what to do,” the woman told The Phuket News.

Again, as with the two people pulled from the surf yesterday and today, the fate of the child pulled from the surf at Nai Harn on Monday has yet to be confirmed by officials, or by lifeguards.

The foreign woman’s comments about the lifeguards reportedly being unable or untrained to respond appropriately echoes grave doubts raised in the drowning of 11-year-old Phuket student Supat ‘Petch’ Jampathong at Nai Yang only last week.

Supat was among six boys playing in knee-deep water when they were overpowered by the strong waves. Two of the five other boys were rescued by a local surfer, Norwegian national Terje Tonnessen, 37. The other three scrambled to shore by themselves.

As locals scrambled to search for Supat, the lifeguards remained on shore. Supat’s body was recovered two days later when the waves pushed it back to Nai Yang Beach.



While the The Phuket News strongly supports the honest efforts of the lifeguards at Nai Harn, as with anywhere along Phuket’s west coast, the apprehension in providing details of the drowning incidents this week highlights a disturbing trend.

With no single agency or organisation to confirm the rescues, and possible deaths, of people pulled from surf at the island’s beaches, the only way the public will know how dangerous the waves and rip currents are in Phuket relies purely on public posts and social media, leaving Phuket’s reigning officials presenting tourists with the grave image of being unable – or worse, unwilling – to even account for the danger tourists are in.

The silence now appears to be a point of policy, with MaAnn Samran, Chief of the Cherng Talay Tambon Administration Organisation (OrBorTor) late last month providing no defence for the inaction of lifeguards while a tourist was being overwhelmed by dangerous surf at Surin Beach, leaving the tourist to be rescued by a local surfer and a “hero” French tourist.

No one at Cherng Talay OrBorTor was willing to comment or even give out contact info for the anyone responsible for lifeguards at Surin Beach. Instead, they insisted that The Phuket News must speak with Chief MaAnn – and him alone.

Mr MaAnn would only confirm that he was aware of the incident, and offered, “We are still investigating what happened, why the lifeguards did not help.”

Worse, the waves destroying the lifeguard watch stations at Kamala and Nai Yang (where Supat drowned) highlights how local officials have failed to even provide the basic budget needed to keep watch at the beaches, nevermind train them or provide them with the equipment needed to save lives.

At this stage the collapse of Phuket’s lifeguards seems complete since the fiasco began in October last year, when the previous holder of the government concession refused to bid for the contract in protest over budget cuts.

Meanwhile, the drownings in just the past two weeks all follow warnings from the International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA) repeating its call to close all Phuket’s exposed west coast beaches to swimmers until current dangerous conditions subside.

They also follow ISLA’s Daren Jenner warning that overuse of red “No Swimming” flags posted all along the beach, and at nearly every beach, will lead to people ignoring them simply because they are posted everywhere.

Of note, the man pulled from the surf at Nai Harn yesterday reportedly entered the water where red flags were posted, as did 33-year-old Indian tourist Gaurav Mann, who was swept away by a strong rip current at Karon Beach on (July 25). Mr Mann’s body washed ashore at Karon Beach two days later.

* Not Kamala Beach, as originally reported. The error is regretted.

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BenPendejo | 14 August 2018 - 09:15:02

Another Chinese dead in NaiHarn yesterday, and one missing in Karon. Thanks you Phuket officials. I saw a video clip from 2 days ago that showed 4 people hanging onto a surfer's board in NaiHarn, while a lifeguard walked (yes walked) to the shore with his paddleboard while frantic family members urged him to hurry. He didn't, he took his time like the unprofessional bum that he is. Too muc...

Christy Sweet | 13 August 2018 - 11:29:40

How many drownings so far this summer? Warning to foreign tourists- THAILAND ONLY CARES ABOUT MONEY, NOT LIFE. 

CaptainJack69 | 12 August 2018 - 12:32:06

Maybe some of the millions being wasted (again) on the so-called 'Phuket Gateway' or on the planned Heroines museum could be used for life-guards instead. You know, used on something that's NOT a frivolous waste of tax payers money.

CaptainJack69 | 12 August 2018 - 12:28:57

"overuse of red “No Swimming” flags... will lead to people ignoring them". 

I've been saying so for years, even when we actually had life-guards they seemed to use red flags by default, putting them out regardless of the conditions. I myself have ignored them because I know they're meaningless.

BenPendejo | 11 August 2018 - 23:13:38

This situation is beyond irresponsible and unacceptable, but really borders on criminal negligence.  Completely baffling how these poor excuses of government officials, including the Governor, can just sit back quiet while this goes on. People in other parts of the world would not believe this is going on here, or in any other civilized tourist destination. Shame shame shame on Thailand.

Discover Thainess | 11 August 2018 - 17:17:33

Sadly it’s clear no one in phuket gives a damn about tourists, from the taxi stranglehold on public transport forcing people into dangerous scooters, thru tour boats, unsafe buses, illegal hotels, illegal restaurants and of course the shambles that is the lifeguards, there is avoidable danger at every turn. People seem to care more about the latest Benz on their driveway than tourist safety. 


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