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The President of the International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA) has appealed directly to Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-ocha to take urgent action to support Phuket’s lifeguards in order to stem the growing tide of drownings at the island’s beaches.
Citing hundreds of drownings in Phuket in recent years and little improvement over the past 10 years, ISLA President Henry Reyes in a formal letter to PM Prayut dated Jan 10 called the ongoing deaths at the beaches an “epidemic”.
Mr Reyes also pointed out that many of the victims were tourists from Australia, China, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea, United Kingdom, the United States and other countries.
“During the monsoon season from May to November, dangerous ocean currents are created by strong winds and waves. These waves and currents make Phuket’s ocean waters extremely dangerous for beach patrons, especially those with little or no ocean swimming experience,” Mr Reyes wrote.
“Since 2010, hundreds of international visitors and Thai citizens have drowned in the ocean waters surrounding Phuket. According to the Thai Ministry of Public Health, drowning is the leading cause of death of Thai children under 16 years old…
“It is also a leading cause of death among tourists in Phuket,” he added.
Mr Reyes called on PM Prayut to intervene in the impending budget cuts by the Phuket Provincial Administration Organization (PPAO) to reduce lifeguard funding by 10%, citing The Phuket News page one story last month “Slashed budget puts Phuket lifeguard patrols in danger”.
“ISLA respectfully requests that you take urgent action to improve Phuket’s lifeguard service, and prevent lapses in lifesaving coverage, by implementing an improvement plan supported by the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand,” he urged.
“The ISLA is aware that the Phuket Provincial Administration Organization (PPAO) has, for the last 14 years, provided money for lifesaving services at many of Phuket’s beaches. However, our initial review indicates the services delivered do NOT meet international standards.
“In addition, the private tender model for providing this essential public safety service has resulted in numerous gaps of lifeguard coverage over the last seven years.
“The time periods without lifesaving services have ranged from a few weeks in some years, to months in others. These lapses in service leave Phuket’s dangerous ocean waters unguarded, and subjects Thai citizens and visitors to an even higher risk of drowning,” he wrote.
“ISLA wishes to voice strong opposition to Mr Patomwatthanapong’s plan to reduce funding for Phuket’s lifeguards, when in reality, much more needs to be done to bring Phuket’s lifeguarding service up to international standards,” Mr Reyes added.
Mr Reyes pointed out that ISLA was “especially concerned” about the following deficiencies:
To redress the critical issue facing Phuket’s lifeguards, and the island’s ability to save lives at the beaches, Mr Reyes noted that ISLA recommends the following measures be taken immediately to prevent needless loss of life: