The four tourists were swept out to sea by a strong rip current and were rescued by lifeguards some 200 metres from the shore at about 6:30pm.
All four were brought to shore, with two of them taken to hospital, reported the Phuket Naiharn Surf Lifesaving Club.
In an open letter to The Phuket News this morning, the International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA) noted that Nai Harn and Patong are the only two beaches on the island where trained former lifeguards have been employed locally to patrol the beaches.
“What would the outcome be if there were untrained lifeguards here?” the open letter posed.
“This is a warning sign to the Governor. Face the Phuket lifeguard issue fairly and appropriately. Lying about how many lifeguards Phuket has, and whether they can swim, are trained and equipped, is a deadly game that will have deadly consequences,” the letter added.
The current weather – without strong wind, heavy rain and dark clouds but still with deadly strong rip currents – is actually adding to the danger tourists are likely to expose themselves to, ISLA added.
“The waves are a bit smaller, but this actually makes it more dangerous, as inexperienced swimmers underestimate the danger.
“It is a sunny day. This is the type of weather that brings people out to the beach. Then, once they are here, they think, ‘Why not go for a swim’,” the letter explained.
Also adding to the danger is the overuse of red warning flags, ISLA noted.
“Since June 1 this year, a safe swimming area has not been marked by the red-and-yellow flags at Surin Beach. This overuse of red flags will work up to a certain point,” ISLA explained.
“Overuse of red flags is crying wolf. When the beach gets crowded with more visitors, eventually all of the red flags are ignored, and this is where trouble begins.
“By marking safe swimming areas with red-and-yellow flags, lifeguards provide a safer area for beachgoers to swim. This is called preventive lifeguarding. Ignoring this time-tested strategy and hiring unskilled lifeguards for B9,000 per month is a recipe for disaster,” the organisation explained.
“Merely placing red flags on the beach, whether warranted or not, is not an effective or acceptable strategy to manage ocean safety.”
The letter cited two reasons for red flags being overused on Phuket’s beaches: “1) The current lifeguards are inexperienced and unable to identify safe vs dangerous areas of the beach; and 2) If they did open a safe swimming area, lifeguards would then be required to make rescues there. On many beaches, lifeguards are unable to make rescues.”
“Common sense and due regard for public safety dictates that the government immediately hire qualified ocean lifeguards with proper equipment immediately,” the letter added.