PHUKET CITY: In the latest bid to rein in the island’s controversial jet-ski rental industry, the province is considering imposing a mandatory insurance scheme.
A major aim of the policy is to cut down on the number of complaints about operators charging inflated fees for alleged damages to their machines.
A meeting was held at Phuket Provincial Hall on Monday to discuss the problem.
Vice-Governor Worapoj Ratthasima chaired the meeting, which was attended by representatives from jet-ski rental operators and officials from the Marine Department, Kathu Police and the provincial insurance office.
All agreed to meet again at the end of June, after a feasibility study has been carried out.
V/Gov Worapoj said that the province and other agencies continuously receive complaints form tourists about unfair treatment at the hands of jet-ski operators.
The provincial governor would like to see an end to the complaints by finding a solution acceptable to both the tourists and the jet-ski operators. This would also improve the overall image of tourism in the province, he said.
Kathu Police Superintendent Grissak Songmoonnark said that in 2008, Kathu Police dealt with 49 cases involving jet-skis. A total of three million baht in compensation for damage to the machines was paid out, with some individual claims in excess of 100,000 baht.
Col Grissak suggested that establishment of a central repair shop to determine the true cost of damage caused to jet-skis would be one way to tackle the problem.
Suwimon Saelim of the Provincial Insurance Office said that she would contact insurance companies to find out if the idea for mandatory insurance was feasible and, if so, how much it would cost.
Patong Deputy Mayor Chairat Sukban said that he agreed with the proposal.
Patong Municipality receives a steady stream of complaints from tourists about the behavior of jet-ski operators, he added.
Controlling jet-ski operators in Phuket has been a contentious issue for at least a decade. Following two tourist fatalities from jet-ski accidents at the end of 2003, then-governor Udomsak Usawarangkura announced a plan to gradually phase out the industry by 2011, giving operators enough time to find alternative ways to make their livelihoods.
New jet-ski registrations were banned with the intention of gradually reducing the existing fleet of 219 jet-skis to zero as they became inoperable due to wear and tear.
In 2007, Governor Niran Kalayanamit relaxed the ban, allowing operators to transfer registrations from old vessels to new ones, theoretically keeping the number of jet-skis on the island at a maximum of 219.
In reality, the number is far higher. In Patong alone there are now 167 registered jet-skis, compared to 126 in 2004, Mr Chairat said.
Factoring in the the number of jet-skis at the other beaches where they are allowed to operate (Kata, Karon, Kamala and Bang Tao), the total number of jet-skis on the island now far exceeds the 219 permitted under the provincial policy.
Olan Hengcharoen, of the Marine Department’s Phuket Office, which is responsible for jet-ski registrations, said some operators have brought jet-skis registered in other provinces to use in Phuket.
The department cannot legally prevent this, he said.
However, the Phuket office has written to Marine Department offices in other provinces asking for their co-operation in trying to prevent more jet-skis being brought into Phuket.
The Phuket office has also presented the problem to the department headquarters, asking that a clear-cut policy to be issued.
Jet-ski operators present at the meeting were reportedly in favor of the idea to impose mandatory insurance, though they said it would have to be established whether the insurance would cover only damage to the jet-ski itself or be extended to include injuries for the renters and damages to third parties.
Despite the provincial registration ban it is still possible to buy a jet-ski in Phuket.
Mr Ekachai Thongyon, who runs a shop selling Yamaha jet-skis in Cherng Talay for Bt110,000 each, said business has been poor, however.
Sales have fallen to about one jet-ski per month due to the economic downturn, he said.
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