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Following the controversy caused by a group of tourists photographed with a variety of marine creatures, one of which is a protected specie, two tour boats were captured yesterday (February 10) and their crews investigated.
At 3:30pm, Phuket Tourism and Sport Director, Santi Pawai and Marine Police Superintendent Lt Col Pichet Samakjan, led a team of marine and tourist police to Chalong Pier to search the boats Juja and Junyong as they were the ones used when the photos were taken. (original story here)
Marine police managed to identify the boats after a person name Jirapong Jeewarongkakol posted a number of pictures of Asian tourists holding coral, star fish, the potected giant clam and other sea creatures on Facebook.
On the first boat, Yuja, police questioned a Burmese man, Whar Yun Fu, 25, who police believed was one of the men seen in the Facebook pictures.
Whar, who did not have a tour guide permit, denied the allegation and said that he did not work as tour guide on the boat but did have other duties. However, when officials pressured him, Whar admitted he worked as a tour guide the day the pictures was taken.
When officials asked to see boat operation permit and boat registration, the captain of the boat told police that they still waiting for the Marine Office to renew them.
At the same time, a second team of police were searching the Junyongboat. The boat owner and tour guide, Yung Cook Shone, 50, a Korean national, admitted that he guided the tourists that day because he was short of staff.
Yung also admitted that he had let the tourists take pictures of the animals that they had caught, but had released them back to the sea after the pictures was taken.
Police escorted Whar and Yung to Chalong police station, and both now faces charges of working illegally as guides. Punishment of which can be up to 1 year in prison, a fine of no more than B100,000 or both.
The boat operators face charges of operating tour boats without a permit which carries a maximum fine of B5,000, and also operating the boats on an expired licence for which they could be fined a maximum of B10,000.
Tourism and Sport Director, Santi Pawai said that the Facebook pictures of tourists holding the animals were severely criticised on social media. It was inappropriate and he was surprised that the tour guide allowed this to happen.
They investigated after seeing the Facebook page and learned that the boats belong to Ozat Diving Centre Company (ODC) which does have legal business registration documents.
ODC told police that the company did not have a tour guide on board and said that the people in the pictures were in fact just tourists.
Officials warned that all tour companies that did not have Thai guides will be subject to arrest because they want to stop tourists from doing anything consider inappropriate and which could damage the tourism image.
All tour companies that fail to comply will have their business licences revoked.
With regards to the pictures taken with the aninals, Thanate Mannoy, Director of the Coastal Resource Conservation Centre said that tourists having their pictures taken with the animals caused no harm to them from the look of the pictures, and that they can only advise tourists what they can and cannot do with them.