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Top-ranking officials and the Governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) today began rolling out their campaign to limit the fallout from the Phoenix tour boat disaster which killed 47 Chinese tourists last week as fears grow over the volume of tour cancellations from mainland China.
Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong headed a meeting this morning (July 14) joined by Vice Admiral Somnuk Preampramot, Commander of the Royal Thai Navy Third Area Command, based at Cape Panwa, and no less than the Governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Yuthasak Supasorn.
Also present were the heads of relevant government agencies and representatives of hotel operators and tour operators.
Mr Yuthasak said that the response operations and the support provided to the victims and their families were performed well. “You did good, were fast, efficient,” he said.
“However, information about this is not available to the Chinese public. There are some dissatisfaction,” he added.
“In the past year, 9.8 million Chinese tourists came to Thailand, generating B500 billion in tourism revenue, but now Chinese tourists are concerned about emergency rescue systems in place and there are now some cancellations into Thailand.
“We would like to ask all sectors to provide positive information about Phuket so that tourists know and help to create a positive tourism image,” he added.
Mr Yuthasak pointed out that social media in China – over which the Thai Government has no control – was where the damage was done.
“The urgent report we have received from China is that there is very little news in terms of communication, there is much more information on social media about the disaster,” he said.
“Next week will take the media from China to learn about the management of marine tourism in Thailand to build confidence and our tourism image,” Mr Yuthasak added.
“In this situation, what we need to do is to ensure that tourists are confident and communicate information in the same direction, and I believe that tourism in Phuket will return and the tourists will come back to Phuket as they did before,” he said.
Governor Norraphat called on the TAT to provide accurate information on how many room bookings and tours had been cancelled.
“We ask for accurate information so that it can be analysed as preliminary information to help solve the problem. Measures must be taken under the Prime Minister’s policy. The correct information must be obtained,” he said.
Governor Norraphat also called for better integration of the Thai Meteorological Department, which issues weather alerts, with radio media and television.
“Weather conditions must be reported hourly 24 hours a day. There must be a call centre available for updates at all times. All boats must pass inspection at checkpoints, and at Chalong Pier officials will check to ensure three aspects are covered: the boat, the captain and the passengers. The province will also carry out random inspections to make sure boats meet the prescribed standards,” he said.
“Now Phuket has set up a marine rescue centre at on Koh Yao (about 15 kilometres east of Phuket) to better respond to emergencies with speedboats, patrol boats and other vessels on call ready to help,” he added.
“All this is needed not only for the benefit of Phuket. This is an important national interest,” Governor Norraphat added.
Prayut weighs in
Governor Prayut’s reference that the Phuket boat disaster is a national concern follows Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday issuing a statement calling for heightened regulation of safety standards in the marine industry specifically in response to the Phoenix disaster.
PM Prayut voiced his support for all people involved in the search, rescue and recovery operations and those providing assistance to survivors and families of victims.
Of the immediate investigation into the disaster, he said, “The investigation of the case was conducted concisely and comprehensively on all issues, such as the boat’s ‘departure from standards’ and inspection of government agencies and others.
However, he added clearly that following the investigation “all relevant parties must be prosecuted”.
PM Prayut also expressed concern about the understanding that Chinese tourists have about the disaster.
“It was initially reported that some of them began to cancel their trips to Phuket. The Ministry of Tourism and their team in China together are to clarify information (to people in Mainland China) to restore confidence as soon as possible. Specifically, state measures to assist victims, deaths, injuries and rehabilitation.
“The key is to prevent this happening again. The order has been given for the relevant agencies to raise to be more stringent in enforcing regulations. They will need to check tour boats as well as fishing boats,” he said.
PM Prayut said officials are to use the Port In, Port Out (PIPO) control centres at the ports – initially set up to combat human trafficking on Thai fishing boats – to regulate tour boats.
“Boats must be inspected from the ship’s captain to the safety equipment and life jackets on board to the navigation systems,” he said.
“If any boat is found leaving port without passing (the standards required by law), the case must be resolved, including removing officials,” Pm Prayut noted.
Passing it on
This afternoon, Phuket Governor Norraphat held a mass conference with major tour boat operators and tour agents on the island to pass on the Prime Minister’s message and warn them that the marine safety regulations will be enforced.
“The government and the private sector will need to be more stringent in complying with safety measures before boats leave port. The quality of the boat must be to standard, the captain and crew must be ‘ready’ and we must know the number of passengers,” Governor Norraphat explained.
“The province has assigned DEPA to develop a program for the key tourist information, such as passenger information and the boat overview (manifest and travel route). This will be forwarded to the destination where the boat will travel.
“In case of an emergency, the tour operator should have photos of all the passengers. It is very important that the photos can be used to compare the identity of a person with a forensic examination. This reduces the time required to perform identity verification tasks quickly and efficiently,” he added.
“From now on, there will be random inspections to check the operation of the ports where boats depart in the Andaman region.
“If there is a serious offense, there will be further action,” he warned
As the top-flight officials were handing down orders from the Prime Minsiter to ramp up marine safety standards, a fishing boat foundering in strong winds and waves sank off Nai Yang Beach this morning (July 14).
The Chok Mong fishing boat with five people on board was pushed off its anchor by and onto rocks after 11am.
The five on board put on life jackets and abandoned ship, jumping in to the relatively shallow water and making it safely to shore.
Marine officials have issued a formal notice for the owner of Chok Mong to recover the boat and move it to a safe locale.