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The Phuket Marine Office has issued orders that all passengers aboard boats on the seas around Phuket must wear life jackets all the time.
It is also to set up a system of red flags that will tell smaller boats that they may not leave shore when the Thai Meteorological Department issues a bad weather warning.
The new measures were foreshadowed by Jiraporn Sankarasiri, the Deputy National Director of the Marine Department, who arrived in Phuket after the deadly speedboat crash on Sunday, in which two Korean tourists died.
In his order, Phuket Marine Office Chief Phuripat Theerakulpisut wrote, “Because Phuket has a lot of Thai and foreign tourists coming to the provinces, people must strictly following these [new] regulations.”
The order explained that boat crew must get all passengers to wear life jackets while they are on board. If they do not put on life jackets, the boat will not allow to leave port. If passengers take their life jackets off while at sea, the crew must stop the boat and may not proceed until the passengers have put their jackets on again.
In addition, crew must stop passengers sitting “on top of the deck, stern, gunwale or roof of a boat or doing anything that might cause the boat to sink” or endanger other passengers.
There is also a total ban on passengers drinking alcohol on board or “taking anything causing [them to] lose control”.
“We have a total of 15 Marine Department officers looking after Phuket and enforcing regulations on life jackets, boat and driver licenses, numbers of passengers and safety equipment onboard,” Mr Phuripat told The Phuket News.
He noted that Marine officers can control things only in port. “But the problems do not happen at the beginning or end of the journey, but also on the way. Passengers sometime take off life jackets on board.”
It will be up to boat crews to control passengers. If a boat is caught at sea with passengers not wearing their life jackets, the captain will be held responsible and fined B10,000, he said.
The red flag system is now being worked out in collaboration with the Andaman Travel Association and will probably vary from one port to another, Mr Phuripat told The Phuket News.
For example, at Royal Phuket Marina, where many speedboats are based, a red flag may be put up in certain weather conditions, while in the same conditions at Rassada Port, home port to larger ferries, it may not. The decisions will be up to officers.
When the sea is judged to be calm enough, a green flag will be flown.
This system will relieve boat owners of the current worry that, if they do not set out to sea, they will not only have to refund fares but also pay compensation to tour agents.
“I know that sometimes boat owner do not want to take risks, but are worried about compensation demanded by tour agencies.
“The [new red flag system] will protect businesses owners when the boat is ordered to stop leaving.” This is because the red flag is an official government order and tour agencies will no longer be eligible to demand compensation, he explained.
The penalties for setting out to sea when a red flag is flying will be up to six months in jail, on a charge of ignoring an official warning.
“If a boat captain to ignore our warnings, the Marine Office may revoke his license temporarilyy or even permanently, ” he warned.
Existing rules governing behaviour of captains and crews of tourist boats will also be strictly applied, Mr Phuripat’s order said.
These include no overloading, no drunkenness or drug-taking, along with rules on driving: Boats on opposing or parallel course must cut their speed to reduce wash, and the skipper must not turn tightly while travelling at high speed.