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Jet-skis in Phuket must go – for good

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Jet-skis in Phuket must go – for good | The Thaiger
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PHUKET: The Gazette joins its online readers in expressing outrage at the recent announcement by the Marine Office that jet-ski rental operators will be allowed to remain on island beaches (story here).

The dumbfounding news comes despite a woman being run over by a jet-ski trailer on Kata Beach (story here), children nearly being hit by a jet-ski at Surin Beach and a Russian tourist killed while riding one of the machines at Patong (story here) – all in the same week.

Thanks to the brilliance of the Marine Office, not only are operators permitted to continue renting out jet-skis at Phuket’s key tourist beaches, but they will do so under a set of new “rules” that will be even harder to enforce than those that preceded them.

When the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) took power in May, few people in Phuket were prepared for the overhaul that transformed the island’s beaches, elevated tourist safety to a top priority and sent a signal that the days of tourism-killing corruption would no longer be tolerated.

The arrest of several prominent local politicians and their protégés on corruption charges were telling first signs that the NCPO meant business. The subsequent bombshell announcement that key officials at local administrative bodies were to be charged with illegally divvying up public beach land (story here) to rake in untold millions from beach vendor concessions over the years seemed to be a coup de grâce in returning beaches to the public.

After such milestone events as the arrest of two longstanding mayors (stories here and here) and the clearing of beaches of all vendors, allowing jet-ski operators to continue running their businesses beggars belief.

It also flies in the face of the NCPO itself, which ordered that jet-ski operators come under closer scrutiny as part of the cleanup campaign. In Phuket, these operators are one of the few allowed to bring their machines across the sands each morning and night in order to keep operating at the beach.

Equally irrational is the pronouncement that would-be swimmers in Patong, now deprived of the right to rent a lounger and umbrella, will be segregated like aquarium fish into 16 de-facto “swimming pens”, each of which will taper down to a width of 100 meters just 50 meters offshore.

A pen and a napkin quickly reveal just how favorable the plan is to jet-ski operators, as well as parasail operators whose welfare also seems to be of high importance to the Marine Office.

One can only speculate on possible motives for the Phuket Marine chief’s vigorous, long-term support of an industry that has brought so much disrepute to the island over the years.

The Gazette would like to call on the NCPO, which includes the national police headquarters in Bangkok as one of its pillars, to fully review the jet-ski plan – and the real rationale behind it.

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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Business

Will Pattaya bar customers want ID tracing and bar girls with masks and gloves?

The Thaiger

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Will Pattaya bar customers want ID tracing and bar girls with masks and gloves? | The Thaiger
PHOTO: The Pattaya News

OPINION

Why do people travel to Pattaya? If it’s for the legendary bar scene, they’re going to be in for a surprise if proposed Covid-era measures are adopted. Likely it’s not going to be the ‘Pattaya’ they were expecting, or had been accustomed to in the past.

Social distancing (surely a phrase to be added to dictionaries from this year), limiting customers inside a bar, and bar workers with face masks and gloves, are just some of the proposed ideas for bars and nightclubs in the party town when they are finally allowed to re-open.

Understandably owners of the popular bars are desperate to lift up the shutters and entice the customers back into their familiar domain of expensive drinks, loud music and attractive hostesses. The large band of young female employees are also eager to welcome back the tourists. But the ‘new look’ bar and club scene may not be a turn on for the city’s expat crowd or future tourists.

In the suggested proposals, customers could also be asked to submit ID prior to entering a venue in case the information is needed for contact tracing in future. Screening checkpoints could also be set up at the entrances to popular haunts like Walking Street and Soi 6.

A meeting to discuss possible transition guidelines was held last Sunday at the Hollywood Club attended by representatives of Pattaya’s bar and nightclub scene, and officials from City Hall and the local police.

The meeting also discussed the possibilities of waiving various taxes and licensee fees. The issue of intransigent landlords who are still demanding full rent payments, was also discussed.

The seaside resort is facing a wipe-out scenario until some safe means of opening bars and clubs can be found. But that’s only the start of the recovery. At this stage there are no tourists and any early opening would only serve the city’s expat community or a trickle of domestic visitors.

The Thai government have closed all international airports for incoming passengers until at least the end of May and, beyond that, have not disclosed the conditions whereby they’d be willing to allow foreigners to return. Many of the Pattaya’s feeder markets for tourists are still in the midst of their own pandemic responses and are banning citizens from travel. Australians, for example, are being told it is unlikely to the government will allow international travel for the rest of this year. Airlines, meanwhile, remain largely grounded with their business models in tatters and many of the smaller, low-cost airlines facing closure.

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Coronavirus Thailand

54 Covid-19 deaths compared to 26,000 road deaths

The Thaiger

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54 Covid-19 deaths compared to 26,000 road deaths | The Thaiger

OPINION

by Brian Hull, long-term expat

From time-to-time The Thaiger adds some different perspectives from guest posts. Expat Brian Hull gave us permission to repost his social media rant about the road deaths in Thailand, comparing them with the death toll from the Covid-19 outbreak.

Thailand, with a population of 67 million, has done a good job to date in keeping Covid-19 deaths to just 54. This begs the question of why nothing serious is ever done to tackle the annual road carnage of 26,000 deaths, which gives Thailand the distinction of being in the top six of the worst countries in the world.

Every accident is a tragedy but the biggest tragedy of all is that most of these could be prevented with proper police control.

I don’t know where the buck stops in the Thai bureaucratic blame game but it should be obvious to even a blind man where it starts – with the traffic police who are noted by their absence from the roads.

During six years of living in Thailand, not once have I seen a motor bike cop or police car stop anybody for anything. Their activities are confined to roadside checks for motorbike helmets and drivers’ licenses. While it is laudable, it does not require trained policemen to perform this function, it could be done by retired school teachers or librarians, and does nothing whatsoever to reduce road accidents.

For years, I have expressed my frustration, and fumed about Thailand not having proper road rules but to my surprise, when I did a test for a Thai Driver’s License, I discovered that sensible traffic regulations, similar to those in the West, are in place. The problem is that they are not enforced.

I think a basic road rule that applies in nearly all developed countries, including Thailand, is that a vehicle (whether car or motorbike) cannot pass another vehicle that is travelling in the same lane. So, all those motorbikes and scooters that are passing cars on either side of them, and snaking in and out of traffic, are breaking the law and creating mayhem.

This, and drink driving or speeding, are the major causes of accidents. If the police were to crack down on just this one rule there is no doubt in my mind that traffic accidents would be reduced by well over 50%.

At 10pm one night last year, with nothing better to do, I counted 250 traffic transgressions in the space of 15 minutes that were worthy of a fine. Any country in the world would have a traffic accident rate as dismal as Thailand’s if they did not have active police control, from the top down.

If senior Government officials are not capable of effectively managing their police force, or are just too lethargic and unmotivated, then they should be replaced, and if appropriate, face charges of Criminal Negligence.

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54 Covid-19 deaths compared to 26,000 road deaths

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Environment

Thailand’s wildlife is thriving in shutdown, but maybe not for long

The Thaiger

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Thailand’s wildlife is thriving in shutdown, but maybe not for long | The Thaiger

by Ben Schaye

There have been a lot of viral news stories going around Thailand the last few weeks about the way wildlife is rebounding while humans are all hunkered down at home under Covid-19 lockdown. Dugongs (sea cows) have been seen frolicking off the coast of Trang, a pod of false killer whales appeared near Koh Lanta, and endangered leatherback sea turtles have been laying eggs on beaches in numbers not seen in years.

There is a serious threat toward wildlife looming though, and this drop in tourism can create its own problems for animals. While it’s great that the pressures of mass tourism have eased up on these creatures, if people don’t have work and income, that pressure will be replaced by poaching and unsustainable hunting.

Thailand is a solidly middle-income, developing country. Extreme poverty is low, and hunger is close to non-existent, or at least they were when times were good. Now with much of the economy shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus, millions of people are out of work and facing difficult times. If this goes on much longer, it’s not a question of if, but when some of those people will turn toward poaching, illegal hunting, and fishing with cyanide or even dynamite.

While high profile stories of poachers and land encroachers are often in the news in Thailand, the country actually does a lot to protect its marine and land-based ecosystems. In the last few years, popular islands and beaches such as Maya Bay have been closed indefinitely, while areas like the Similan and Surin Islands are closed for half the year to allow ecosystems to recover from humans.

Thailand’s national parks also offer habitat protection to thousands of species including thousands of wild elephants whose populations have finally stabilized after decades of decline.

All of this may be under threat from the effects of the economic shutdown. While marine and national parks have yet to see layoffs or budget cuts, that could change as budgets are strained across all government sectors. These parks and reserves typically have money flowing in each day from admission fees but have been closed now for around a month and counting. Any staff cuts would make it easier for poachers to sneak in and out of these areas, while pay cuts could tempt rangers to accept bribes, or become poachers themselves.

Unlike many other countries in Southeast Asia, Thailand has mostly done away with unsustainable fishing practices such as dynamite fishing or using cyanide to poison waters and kill fish. These practices that were once widespread have become quite rare due to a combination of strong enforcement and better education, but a cratering economy might threaten these gains. Desperation may lead people back into such unsustainable methods, and few things cause as much desperation as not having enough food to feed your family.

The solution to this problem needs to address the short and the long term. For now, Thailand needs to provide a way for its citizens to meet their basic needs. They also need to ensure that wildlife protection officials are still on the job and still being paid to patrol and keep poachers out.

In the longer term, there are lessons to be learned from the way wildlife is thriving right now while tourism is practically non-existent. More beaches and islands may need to be closed off, at least for temporary periods of time. There may also be value in closing off open areas of the ocean to boat traffic so that wildlife can gather there undisturbed.

There is a constant give and take between sustainability and economic development. Tourism is a crucial part of the Thai economy, and closing off too many areas will inevitably hurt locals and the broader industry. However, not doing enough will mortgage the future and ultimately be even more painful. Let’s hope the government can get this right. For now, we all need to come together to help out our neighbors and our communities. Meanwhile, let’s hope the animals enjoy their own little holiday in Thailand away from the stresses of ordinary life.

Ben has a blog at It’s Better In Thailand

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