SIMILAN ISLANDS: Boat operators wanting to enter the Similan Islands Marine National Park before November 2 have been warned that they must get special permission first, or face action for contravening the National Parks Act of 1961. The warning was issued after two vessels were halted on Wednesday by Wittaya Hongwiangchan, who took over as the park’s Chief in May. First to be stopped was the MV Wicked Witch, operated by Sea King Divers. The company’s managing director, Alistair Beveridge, told the Gazette, “We were initially stopped from leaving Tab Lamu port [in Phang Nga] by K. Wittaya, who said that we could not go out, even though we had [paying] passengers on board. “He talked with my captain for an hour before finally letting the trip go ahead. But he said that this would be the last one allowed until November 2.” The junk June Hong Chian Lee, meanwhile, reached one of the dive sites in the Similans and had divers underwater when the National Park officers arrived and told the operators, Dive Inn Co., Ltd., that they too were contravening the 1961 Act. They were asked to convey the message to all other dive companies in Phuket. Kevan Thompson, manager of Phuket Scuba Club and spokesman for the Dive Operators Club of Thailand (DOCT), told the Gazette, “We’ve been running Similans dive trips year-round for the past two years. “The only time trips stopped was when the weather was so bad that it was too dangerous to go out there, usually in May and June. Even then, some boats still laid on dive trips. “No one has ever told us that we were not allowed to enter the park after this [May/June] period,” Mr Thompson said. Mr Beveridge said, “It’s been my understanding that all the islands were still open, though the office, shop, restaurant and other national park services were closed.” K. Wittaya explained, “We are aware that fishing and dive boats have been breaking the law by entering the park in the closed season, but we have only small cruisers that cannot go out to check during the monsoon. “Sometimes our officers on the island could see boats in the water, but they could not go out because of the bad weather. Radio communications are usually bad, too. K. Wittaya said that the ban on dive operators going to the Similans during the closed season is not total, but any who wish to go must first apply for entry at the National Park office at Tab Lamu port. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. “Of course, we do not want too many boats entering the Similans in the off-season. This is for safety reasons, and because this is the time for marine species to recover. “However, I agree that the matter has never really been clarified before, and this has led to misunderstandings. Because of that, I didn’t want to be too strict with the two boats found this week.” K. Wittaya suggested that dive operators wishing to enter the area before November 2 should contact his office at (076) 595045 for details of how to apply for entry. K. Wittaya will also attend the DOCT meeting to be held on October 7 in Patong.
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