Deputy PM Thanasak specifically asked Phuket’s lifeguards during an inspection tour of Phuket last month. “I am here today to see the situation and hear their concerns in person. It is the main purpose of my visit,” Gen Thanasak told The Phuket News during that visit.
“Make a list of what you need for me,” Gen Thanasak told Phuket Lifeguard Chief Prathaiyut Chuayuan in no uncertain terms.
In response, the Surin-Bangtao Surf Lifesaving Club, in conjunction with the International Surf Lifesaving Association, this week issued a 33-page improvement plan directly to Deputy PM Thanasak.
In the accompanying letter, ISLA President Henry Reyes describes the plan as “an urgent and necessary step that should be considered immediately, to prevent needless loss of life.
“The arrival of the monsoon in May is the beginning of Phuket’s ocean danger season. Therefore, your immediate support to help modernize and improve Phuket’s lifesaving forces is respectfully requested.”
The plan specifically lists as its aims to 1) Improve beach safety for lifeguards and visitors; 2) Reduce ocean drowning at lifeguarded beaches (Laem Singh, Surin, Bang Tao, Layan); 3) International certification for all Surin-Bangtao SLSC lifeguards; Mett international standards for operations and equipment; and 4) Educate the public about water safety.
“The goal… is to use government sponsored ‘Lifeguard 4.0’ upgrades to reduce drowning and injury at our beaches by 50% within three years,” the plan states.
Testament to the importance of the service Phuket’s lifeguards provide, from March 19 last year through to Jan 20 this year, the island’s lifeguards rescued 755 people – 49 Thais and 706 foreigners. However, they were unable to save four people from watery deaths during that period.
Gen Thanasak’s visit to Phuket last month was in response to Mr Reyes appealing directly to Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha. Citing hundreds of drownings in Phuket in recent years and little improvement over the past 10 years, Mr Reyes called the ongoing deaths at Phuket’s beaches an “epidemic”.
Mr Reyes also pointed out that many of the victims were tourists from Australia, China, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea, United Kingdom, the United States and other countries.
“During the monsoon season from May to November, dangerous ocean currents are created by strong winds and waves. These waves and currents make Phuket’s ocean waters extremely dangerous for beach patrons, especially those with little or no ocean swimming experience,” Mr Reyes wrote.
“Since 2010, hundreds of international visitors and Thai citizens have drowned in the ocean waters surrounding Phuket. According to the Thai Ministry of Public Health, drowning is the leading cause of death of Thai children under 16 years old…
“It is also a leading cause of death among tourists in Phuket,” he added.
Mr Reyes’ appeal in turn was in response to impending budget cuts by the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO) to reduce lifeguard funding by 10%, despite the poor support they already receive.
Budget cuts by the PPAO and stalling on offering the annual contract to provide the critical service in years past has seen protracted negotiations leave Phuket’s beaches unguarded as the annual “drowning season” begins in May, when the southwestern monsoon whips up dangerous surf along Phuket’s west coast.
The detailed plan issued this week asks for immediate purchase of lifesaving facilities and equipment, and urges all sectors to work together to improve Phuket’s public safety image, and save more lives.
“…funds spent on lifeguard service to protect beach tourists and tourism are not simply expenses, they are an investment to support a wide range of profitable tourism businesses, which in turn supply thousands of local jobs,” Mr Reyes explained.
“We should work together to improve Phuket’s lifeguard service, because it is good for everyone: businesses, tourists, and Thai citizens alike.”
By November this year, ISLA also expects to raise over B1 million to fund a humanitarian lifeguard project for Phuket.
“Project Thailand” will bring 12 professional lifeguard trainers from around the globe to provide advanced training, and donate equipment critically needed to save more lives, the plan explains.
Mr Prathaiyut told The Phuket News on Wednesday (April 26), “We need more – and better – rescue equipment to better perform our duties. Most importantly, we need proper lifeguard towers on every beach to improve beach surveillance. We can’t just use tents like we do now, especially in the rainy season.”
He added, “Every Phuket lifeguard should have professional skills and knowledge and be trained to recognised standards under the qualifications framework in how to respond in emergencies.
Mr Prathaiyut noted his appreciation the role Australian lifeguards have played over the years in training Phuket’s lifeguards. “Each year our lifeguards receive training from Australian surf life savers, and this training improves our skills,” he said.
However, making Phuket’s lifeguards a professional service remained a top priority, Mr Prathaiyut said.
“My main goal is to provide staff accommodation, effective equipment and a respectable salary for Phuket’s lifeguards. If this can be done, then people will become interested in becoming a lifeguard and apply for the job. Then we have choose our staff, those with strong motivation and a passion for becoming a lifeguard,” he explained.
“All this will help to save more people’s lives in Phuket,” he added.