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World lifeguard chief appeals to PM Prayut over Phuket drownings

World lifeguard chief appeals to PM Prayut over Phuket drownings

PHUKET: The President of the International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA) has appealed directly to Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-ocha to take urgent action to support Phuket’s lifeguards in order to stem the growing tide of drownings at the island’s beaches.

By The Phuket News

Friday 13 January 2017, 09:52AM

Phuket lifeguards attempt to revive a Russian tourist on the beach after rescuing him from strong surf. Photo: The Phuket News / file

Phuket lifeguards attempt to revive a Russian tourist on the beach after rescuing him from strong surf. Photo: The Phuket News / file

Citing hundreds of drownings in Phuket in recent years and little improvement over the past 10 years, ISLA President Henry Reyes in a formal letter to PM Prayut dated Jan 10 called the ongoing deaths at the 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 called on PM Prayut to intervene in the impending budget cuts by the Phuket Provincial Administration Organization (PPAO) to reduce lifeguard funding by 10%, citing The Phuket News page one story last month “Slashed budget puts Phuket lifeguard patrols in danger”. (See story here.)

“The International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA) is aware of PPAO Acting Chief Watcharin Patomwatthanapong’s plan to reduce funding for ocean lifesaving by 10% for each of the next three years…


“ISLA respectfully requests that you take urgent action to improve Phuket’s lifeguard service, and prevent lapses in lifesaving coverage, by implementing an improvement plan supported by the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand,” he urged.

“The ISLA is aware that the Phuket Provincial Administration Organization (PPAO) has, for the last 14 years, provided money for lifesaving services at many of Phuket’s beaches. However, our initial review indicates the services delivered do NOT meet international standards.

“In addition, the private tender model for providing this essential public safety service has resulted in numerous gaps of lifeguard coverage over the last seven years.

“The time periods without lifesaving services have ranged from a few weeks in some years, to months in others. These lapses in service leave Phuket’s dangerous ocean waters unguarded, and subjects Thai citizens and visitors to an even higher risk of drowning,” he wrote.

“ISLA wishes to voice strong opposition to Mr Patomwatthanapong’s plan to reduce funding for Phuket’s lifeguards, when in reality, much more needs to be done to bring Phuket’s lifeguarding service up to international standards,” Mr Reyes added.

Mr Reyes pointed out that ISLA was “especially concerned” about the following deficiencies:

  • Insufficient number of lifeguards during monsoon season (May-Nov)
  • Worn out and unserviceable lifesaving equipment
  • Lack of facilities to clean, repair and store lifesaving equipment
  • Lack of shelter, water, toilet facilities, and electricity for Lifeguards
  • Lack of authority to keep beach patrons out of dangerous areas
  • Inadequate training to ensure Lifeguard and patron safety
  • No insurance for on the job injuries
  • Low salaries with no benefits
  • Little improvement in drowning statistics in the last 10 years

To redress the critical issue facing Phuket’s lifeguards, and the island’s ability to save lives at the beaches, Mr Reyes noted that ISLA recommends the following measures be taken immediately to prevent needless loss of life:

  • Increased budget to ensure adequate numbers of lifeguards and stations, especially during monsoon season (May-Nov)
  • Construction of robust lifeguard stations at key beaches with:
    - Buildings able to withstand monsoon rain and wind, where Lifeguards can store/repair equipment and take shelter during extreme weather
    - Running water, toilets, electricity, and ventilation
    - Ongoing maintenance to keep beach facilities in working order
  • Provide adequate budget to acquire and maintain lifesaving equipment
  • Ongoing training for all Lifeguards to ensure their own safety as well as beach patrons
  • Public Safety Officer status for senior Lifeguards to provide authority and back-up
  • Salary and benefits commensurate with other Public Safety agencies
  • Participation in ISLA’s Global Drowning Tracker program

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Christy Sweet | 14 May 2017 - 15:40:22

One cannot deny 20 or more people are losing their lives, for whatever reason at Phuket beaches every summer. That is what I call  dangerous. Is anyone surprised Thai authorities are not not concerned? At one point China govt  threatened a boycott of Phuket. That would be just about the only thing to galvanize the local authorities into putting resources into lifeguards.  

Pauly44 | 13 May 2017 - 19:14:48

The only dangerous aspect of the west coast beaches during the SW monsoon is the rips and underwater currents which can be decievedly strong and any inexperienced swimmer can get carried out, fatigued and drown, there is no real ground swell to speak of and I'm not convinced the local lifeguards are experienced enough to recognise where the rips are to notify the public.

Kurt | 13 May 2017 - 13:18:55

GregoryJCS: A true and clear comment from your hand.
I made me think that to upgrade the professionalism of Phuket Life Guards it could be a good idea to call in the help of the famous Australian beach life guards.
Let all Phuket beach life guards have a 2 week training at their own beach by Australian beach life guards.

There is no way that the thai Phuket lifeguards can upgrade their skills...

GregoryJCS | 13 May 2017 - 10:25:52

If you think Phuket has VERY dangerous beach conditions half of the year then you must come from a country with no access to the sea. Yes we have a monsoon season. Yes the surf gets up a bit but most of the time it is hardly big enough to even go surfing, just wind blown onshore slop. The fact that many tourists drown is more the fault of them having no idea how to swim save themselves. Plus the f...

Kurt | 16 January 2017 - 10:40:48

BenPendejo:  I fully agree with your last writing.

BenPendejo | 15 January 2017 - 20:21:21

Well, I did comment that lifeguard lack of authority wasn't a core thought being that most of the lifeguards aren't capable of exercising authority, as they aren't really lifeguards and wouldn't ever be lifeguards in a country that values public safety.  The authority should be in the hands of local police when things escalate that far, but we know that local police ...

Aprofessional | 15 January 2017 - 01:25:07

@inepto Cracy 

The person at the groin is likely feeling for a femoral pulse, if you take a closer look there is another person in a yellow shirt hidden behind a few people on the right who appears to be doing chest compressions 

Kurt | 14 January 2017 - 06:37:03

BenPendero, in article "Chinese tourist drowns at Phuket Beach", you commented that lifeguards don't need more authority. Which was what I suggested.

Here we read under 'deficiencies':  ...Lack of authority to keep beach patrons out of dangerous areas....
This means the present life guards have not enough legal authority.
Do I understand that today you agree fully what i...

BenPendejo | 13 January 2017 - 16:26:24

Well here we have it... exactly what is needed, and coming from a professional lifeguard that knows what is lacking, and what is needed to put things on track.  We also have the unfortunate and shameful drowning records which demonstrate the need for what the ISLA President Henry Reyes lays out. is in the hands of the PM...not some deadbeat local official that is clueless of the importan...

Inepto Cracy | 13 January 2017 - 13:21:22

I am shocked at the photo. The person doing cpr should find out where the heart is in the body. It is not in the guys groin. Maybe find s better photograph to use?

Discover Thainess | 13 January 2017 - 13:12:45

This should be an easy decision to give lifeguards better funding, always assuming that tourist safety is important to the authorities..... seems to be plenty of money available for other projects which may seem not so necessary .

Kurt | 13 January 2017 - 11:13:18

It is very good that the International World Lifeguard chief appeals to PM Prayut about present and already years going on Phuket beach situation.

The local thai Phuket lifeguard 'chiefs' are complete of the road in their job.  ( actually what job?)
The 2 lists with deficiencies and recommendations show that undoubtedly.

Now we start to hope for the better.

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