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