The continuing fragmented state of lifeguard coverage at Phuket’s beaches has come under harsh criticism for failing to provide a framework that will ensure killed lifeguards will remain on our beaches, while a comprehensive plan to have trained, professional lifeguards patrolling Phuket’s beaches has fallen on deaf ears.
The comprehensive plan to have over 220 freshly trained and internationally certified ocean lifeguards hired full time to ensure their skills are maintained, with no threat of annual lapses as while government contracts are renewed, was presented to Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong on May 14 – a fact that was omitted during the Governor Meets The Press meeting held at Provincial Hall yesterday (May 21).
As such, until now the public has been unaware that the plan was presented.
Instead, at the press conference yesterday Satien Kaewpraprab, Deputy Chief Administrator (Deputy Palad) of the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO, or OrBorJor), blamed the difficulties local government officials had in following mandated procedures in offering government concession contracts. (See story here.)
Mr Satien was given the duty of answering to the public what had gone so horribly wrong with the simple act of hiring lifeguards – something the PPAO had scrambled to manage for more than 10 years – as PPAO Acting Chief Watcharin Pathomwattanapong was not present to answer questions in person.
Mr Watcharin is of note in the lifeguard crisis as he played a central role in the lifeguard contract debacle since its began in September last year.
The PPAO is at the heart of the lifeguard crisis after it refused last September to increase the budget on offer by contract for any organisation to bid for. Consequently, no companies or organisations placed a bid, including the Phuket Lifeguards Service (PLS), which had provided lifeguards on Phuket’s beaches for more than 10 years.
“The Phuket Provincial Government is playing a deadly game that will cost tourists and locals lives, and also their livelihoods,” said Daren Jenner, the International Marine Safety Officer, Thailand Section Chief, for the International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA).
“The Governor’s plan to turn over what little funds are being provided for critical ocean lifesaving services to the local OrBorTor (municipalities) will only perpetuate the current deadly cycle of inexperienced, non-certified lifeguards, low salaries, fragmented service, and lapses in coverage,” he said.
“All of these will contribute to an increase in the already frighteningly high drowning rates in Phuket,” added Mr Jenner, who has provided his skills as an Ocean Rescue Lifeguard on Phuket for seven years.
“The solution lies in creating a NEW, unified professional lifeguard force for all of Phuket. All over the world, lifeguards work best in teams, and require a rapid source of backup, to prevent drowning effectively. Phuket is no exception.
“For the last seven years, the current fragmented lifeguard system has failed Phuket’s visitors and locals time and time again. Chinese, Russians, and Thais are the most likely to drown here in Phuket,” Mr Jenner said.
Mr Jenner’s deadly prediction is already becoming a reality, even before the southwest monsoon whips up dangerous surf and flash rips along Phuket’s tourist-popular west coast.
On May 1, Sanya Makwut, a 36-year-old tourist on holiday from Bangkok, drowned at Layan Beach, where there are no lifeguards on duty. Attempts to revive Mr Sanya on the sand failed and tourists watched as his body was carried off the beach. (See story here.)
Mr Sanya’s death followed that of Chinese tourist Teng Yiding, 64, who was pronounced dead after after he was pulled from the water unconscious at Patong Beach on April 4. (See story here.)
A recent audit of Phuket Beach safety conducted by the International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA) produced a grade of “Fail – Unsafe” for 17 of the 18 beaches evaluated, Mr Jenner pointed out – a fact that has been raised with both the US and Chinese embassies in Bangkok. (See stories here and here.)
“In addition, under-funded lifeguard contracts awarded for a few months or even a year at a time will never solve this problem,” Mr Jenner added.
“Continuity and time are required to build the professional lifeguard force that Phuket needs. If the tender process is to work on the island, contracts must last four to five years at a minimum, to provide adequate time for lifeguards to upgrade their skills. Years are also needed to properly plan and construct lifeguard headquarters and other infrastructure needed to operate an effective lifeguard force,” he said.
“The International Surf Lifesaving Association has put forth a professional lifeguard improvement plan, which has been reviewed and approved not only by the ISLA, but 95% of the former lifeguards, who are experienced, trained, and qualified. I personally handed this plan to the Governor in a meeting on May 14 at the Governor’s House.
“The local force of over 220 freshly trained and Internationally Certified Ocean Lifeguards are ready to go to work immediately. Any further delays by Phuket Provincial authorities in getting these lifeguards back to work will cost lives. The horrifying scenes of drowning and death we have been seeing over the past few months will only worsen, and will play out again and again on social media and the international news, until adequate funding is provided for ocean lifeguards,” Mr Jenner explained.
“There is no more time to wait. Without lifeguards, hundreds of lives will be lost to ocean drownings in the waters surrounding Phuket in the next six months. Emergency funding must be made available immediately, so the existing trained and certified force can start work as ONE team, and avert a humanitarian crisis,” he said.
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