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Questions over crackdown on Phuket dive industry as foreigners arrested over permits

The officers, in plain clothes, have been arresting any foreigner found running or working for a dive company and threatening them with charges of contravening the terms of their work permits.

Phuket pierThe owner of one dive company, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Phuket News this week, “They saw me on the pier directing my staff and demanded to see my work permit. When I showed it to them they said that my work permit allowed me to work only in the office, and not at the pier. “I checked later with my accountancy firm who organised the work permit and they said this was definitely not true.”

They took him to an upstairs office at Chalong Police Station, “behind the cells”, where he was told he was facing a night in jail and then an appearance in court for working illegally. The alternative, the officers explained, was for him to pay a fee of B30,000, and another B3,000 a month to ensure the exercise is not repeated. He paid. “Since then I have had no trouble. There’s one officer called Prasit who lets his colleagues know that I am protected.”

Some dive companies have not been touched – yet – but all are finding it embarrassing having to tell clients, “No! Don’t touch that equipment – you don’t have a work permit.” Clients are also wondering about the legitimacy of the dive companies when they see a manager or dive instructor being escorted away by police.

One dive operator estimates that the police are snagging as many as 30 people from the dive industry every day. The crackdown, which takes place almost daily, targets dive company staff and bosses as they see divers off from the pier and again when they arrive back there. But police officers in Chalong professed to be mystified about who the plainclothes cops are.

Pol Lt Chonlada Chokdeesrichan, who was duty officer over the past few days between 8 am and 8 pm – during which both shakedowns occur – insisted she knew anything about the allegations. The Phuket News also contacted Pol Col Jittapab Dejittharasorn, the Chalong Superintendent. He said, “I didn’t order anyone to do this. I have not received any report about this matter. I suggest that you call the Marine Police and the Tourist Police.”

The Phuket News called Marine Police, who also insisted they knew nothing about the action. We also called the Tourist Police and received the same response.

There was also a suggestion that the officer named by dive industry people as Prasit works at Phuket Town Police Station. But a non-commissioned officer who gave his name only as Thanwa said, “I have one man named Prasit here, but he is the driver for our Deputy Superintendent Assistant. I don’t think he could be the one.”

Pol Cpl Monthip Thepkaew, who works at Investigation Department said, “In order to catch this bad person, the accused person needs to go to Chalong Police Station to file a complaint. And you need evidence to accuse someone.”

The action by the police is reminiscent of a time 14 years ago when the then-superintendent of Tourist Police in Phuket, Lt Col Chak Onnim, arrested a slew of dive instructors on allegations that they were acting illegally as tour guides. Those who elected not to go into the cells and then into the court system to fight the charge reported paying B100,000 for their freedom. After an outcry by the dive industry Col Chak was transferred – probably to his delight – to a police station in Bangkok whose territory includes Khao San Rd.

The dive company boss who spoke with The Phuket News saw little chance of joint action this time, however, and seems to regard the monthly impost as just another irritating cost of doing business. It’s the high season, he said, and “I really don’t have time for this now.”

Source – The Phuket News

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