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The Association of Thailand Underwater Sports (ATUS) has warned that further arrests of Phuket dive instructors for teaching at locations outside work permit regulations could kill off many businesses in the island’s booming dive industry.
“I received complaints from several instructors that they were fined a lot of money for breaching this condition, even if they have a legal instructor’s licence. Some of them are giving up and closing their shops,” Ratanapon Promchu, Manager of the Phuket-based ATUS office, told The Phuket News.
“If this condition continues to be strictly enforced, it could have a terminal effect on Phuket’s scuba diving industry and hurt Phuket’s overall tourism reputation,” she added.
The warning follows a spate of arrests of dive instructors for using swimming pools at other dive companies, or teaching in the sea, as their employing company did not have pools at their places of business.
Among the slew of complaints received by The Phuket News about the arrests were recurring reports that passports and work permits were being withheld even after a court-levied fine had been paid.
Allegations surfaced that officials were looking for cash contributions of a consistent sum of B35,000 before they would return the passports and work permits.
o this Ms Ratanapon was unable to comment in detail.
“Normally the fine is levied by the court, and dive instructors would be charged about B20,000 per person per breach of work permit regulations. Almost always this fine is paid to local police or the Phuket Provincial Investigator’s Office (under the Royal Thai Police),” Ms Ratanapon said.
The Acting Chief of the Phuket Employment Office, who declined to be named, also declined to comment to The Phuket News about the arrests.
Maj Gen Teeraphol Thijareon, Commander of Phuket Provincial Police and consequently the commanding officer of Phuket Provincial Investigator’s Office, denied any knowledge of the dive instructor arrests or the alleged cash “shakedowns” for passports and work permits to be returned.
“I don’t know anything about cases of dive instructors being arrested. If what they are doing is illegal and against the law, it is nothing more than police performing their duty
“I have no idea about instructors being arrested and fined,” he said.