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Dirty water spurs Patong “seaweed’ surge

Legacy Phuket Gazette



Dirty water spurs Patong “seaweed’ surge | The Thaiger

PATONG: Nipawan Bussarawit, a marine biologist at the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC), has confirmed that the rising level of “organic contaminants” in Patong Bay has been a contributing factor in the explosive growth of stinking brown seaweed that has been washing up on Patong Beach for the past month.

K. Nipawan said that the water quality in Patong Bay was still at acceptable levels, but the rise in its organic content could have spurred the increased growth of the seaweed, which she confirmed as Cladophora.

Cladophora grows naturally, but the factors that cause this seaweed to bloom so much like this are the high levels of nutrients and the high temperatures.

“The high organic content comes from wastewater. If we had a good wastewater-treatment system, the water being released into the bay shouldn’t have organic waste – or inorganic waste – that would cause the seaweed to grow.”

K. Nipawan said that the seaweed might upset tourists with its bad smell and by making the water look dirty, but added that it is not harmful to people.

Patong Deputy Mayor Chairat Sukbal defended Patong Municipality’s efforts to deal with the problem. “Patong Municipality sends workers to clean up the seaweed every day, and tests the water quality every week.

“The water quality is not that bad, and even the PMBC has told us that the seaweed grows not just because of the organic material but also from the weak current and the right amount of sunshine – and it’s not harmful to humans.

“We know that it’s not nice for tourists. We will send workers to clean the beach more often.”

However, K. Chairat was not optimistic that cleaning the beach would solve the problem even in the short term. “This seaweed will be here for a while, and it will go away when the current gets stronger,” he said.

K. Chairat also defended the Municipality’s attempts to solve Patong’s wastewater-treatment problems. “The municipal wastewater treatment plant can handle 12,000 cubic meters of wastewater a day, and we will have a new plant of the same capacity built soon.

“The new plant will take 900 days to build, but the Governor wants it finished quicker. He wants the contractor to complete the plant in 500 days. However, it’s currently still under negotiation.”

He added that people who see untreated wastewater being dumped into Patong Bay should call Patong Municipality at Tel: 076-342080 or him directly at Tel: 01-8916256.

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Phoenix design failures – Forensic probe begins

Kritsada Mueanhawong



Phoenix design failures – Forensic probe begins | The Thaiger

Now that Phoenix has been hoisted, successfully, from 45 metres below the surface of the Andaman Sea, the next phase begins as forensic experts, engineers and naval architect pour over the wreckage to find clues and prepare reports for the forthcoming court cases.

The Tourism and Sports Minister, who has been in Phuket all weekend overseeing the operations, along with Maj Gen Surachete Hakparn, says the probe aims to clarify a number of matters and focus on who can be held responsible for the boat’s sinking on July 5.

The wreckage is now at a boatyard in Rassada, the area is off limits and under 24 hour guard.

At this early stage of the investigation police say the boat was not built to specification and used, amongst other things, an unsuitable converted engine from a 10 wheeler truck. They also mentioned a water pump, used to remove any water from the vessel, to be inadequate and smaller than would have been required.

A number of Chinese media and Li Chunlin, Consul General at the Chinese Embassy in Thailand, were also present during the weekend as the boat was raised and moved back to Phuket for examination.

Khun Weerasak says he hopes Chinese tourism will return to normal after the investigation is complete and the case resolved. He says his office is satisfied with the government’s efforts to get to the bottom of the core issues and implement measures to ensure everything is done to avoid a similar incident in the future.

26 year old Woralak Ruekchaikal, the Thai owner of nominee company TC Blue Dream, the company which operated the Phoenix, and the vessel’s chief engineer Onchan Kanhayothi, were arrested on charges of recklessness causing death and and injury in the week following the tragedy. The chief of Phuket’s marine office was also removed from his post pending the investigation.

Phoenix design failures - Forensic probe begins | News by The Thaiger Phoenix design failures - Forensic probe begins | News by The Thaiger Phoenix design failures - Forensic probe begins | News by The Thaiger

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Phoenix under high security at Rassada Pier

Kritsada Mueanhawong



Phoenix under high security at Rassada Pier | The Thaiger

The Phoenix is now under 24 hour security guard at the Rassada Pier while waiting for a suitable tide to bring it up into the shipyard.

The boat eventually broke the surface just after 3pm on Saturday.

Read more about the Phoenix’s journey back to Phuket yesterday, HERE.

Minister of Tourism and Sports, Mr.Weerasak Kowsurat, Royal Thai Police Deputy Commander Gen Rungroj Saengkram, acting chief of Immigration, Maj Gen Surachete Hakparn, Phuket Governor Pakkapong Tawipat, the Deputy Chinese Consul-General in Songkhla, and Director of the China Consulate-General in Phuket Li Chun Foo, along with Thai and Chinese media, were on location on Saturday to witness the recovery mission and the boat’s rise from the depths of the Andaman Sea.

When the boat reached the surface, officers and media participated in a one minutes silence in respect of the 47 Chinese tourists who drowned as a result of the boat’s sinking.

It took about four hours for the barge to tow the Phoenix from where it was brought up to the surface to Rassada Pier on the east coast of Phuket. The boat has now being seized and is under the jurisdiction of the investigating officer.

No entry or photos will be allowed during the investigation phase. Later the boat will be moved and kept at Rattanachai Shipyard in Rassada for further investigation.

A full montage of photos from the salvage mission below…

Phoenix under high security at Rassada Pier | News by The Thaiger Phoenix under high security at Rassada Pier | News by The Thaiger Phoenix under high security at Rassada Pier | News by The Thaiger  Phoenix under high security at Rassada Pier | News by The Thaiger Phoenix under high security at Rassada Pier | News by The ThaigerPhoenix under high security at Rassada Pier | News by The Thaiger    Phoenix under high security at Rassada Pier | News by The Thaiger Phoenix under high security at Rassada Pier | News by The Thaiger Phoenix under high security at Rassada Pier | News by The Thaiger Phoenix under high security at Rassada Pier | News by The ThaigerPhoenix under high security at Rassada Pier | News by The Thaiger

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Phoenix returns to Phuket. But will the Chinese travellers return?

Tim Newton



Phoenix returns to Phuket. But will the Chinese travellers return? | The Thaiger

SCREENCAPTURES: Kritsada Mueanawong

The vessel, that is at the centre of Thailand’s dramatic drop in Chinese tourists, will arrive back at a boatyard in Rassada today.

Back on July 5 it headed out for a day of diving near Koh Hei, south west of Phuket. The day was mostly fine although there had been warnings from early in the morning about potentially bad weather developing later. Smaller boats had been warned to stay ashore.

The boat never made it back to Phuket, and out of the nearly 100 passengers, 47, including many children, never made it back either.

The impact of the tragedy was partly softened by the international fascination in the Mu Pa football team who were being rescued from the Chiang Rai cave at the same time. The interest in that story surely softened the potential full media impact of the story. News editors around the world would have thought ‘one story from Thailand is enough’ for the nightly news.

But the story still played out, badly, especially in Chinese social media. In the hours after the full extent of the tragedy emerged, and as the search was still continuing for survivors, the Thai PM Prawit Wongsuwan said the event was ‘Chinese killing Chinese’, (referring to the revelation that the owner of the boat was a Thai nominee company acting on behalf of a real Chinese ‘owner’).

The first attempts at salvage were a sham. Photos send from participating divers showed water tanks and cables in a make-shift effort to refloat the sunken vessel. The attempt was doomed before it even started; the true tragedy being the loss of one diver’s life during the operation which was never going to work.

But after a week of preparations from a Singapore firm, the Phoenix, four and a half months later, returned to the surface with signs that the seabed was already reclaiming the wreckage. It emerged in a well-orchestrated media show, on cue, around 3.30pm yesterday.

Phoenix returns to Phuket. But will the Chinese travellers return? | News by The Thaiger

When it finally reaches the Rassada boatyard there are some key elements police want to check that will finalise their report and become part of the prosecution evidence in the court cases.

Who was responsible for the boat’s sinking? Could it have been avoided? Who set up the company with the local nominee? Was the Captain or crew liable in their duty of care for the passengers on the day? Was the original design of Phoenix ‘fit for purpose’? Who were the officials that signed off on the design and building specifications for Phoenix? Indeed, was the naval architect of the vessel qualified to design such a boat? What was the limit of passengers for the boat? Should Phoenix been out in the open seas that day? Did the company know of the day’s weather forecast? (Even The Thaiger posted a screen-saver of the approaching storm during the afternoon). Was Phoenix carrying the required safety gear and was the safety gear ‘fit for purpose’?

The answers to these and many other question will now be meticulously sought by experts, lawyers and officials. No dates have been set for the court cases at this stage. But it has already been reported that the Captain of Phoenix, the Thai owner of the nominee company, the Phuket Marine Chief and several companies have already had charges brought against them.

At the time it was thought that the Chinese response to the Phoenix boat disaster would be quite swift but things would probably return to normal by the end of the year. In fact the immediate response was not a sudden drop in tourists. The Chinese who had already booked and paid for their holidays at the time, mostly came. But it was the ones who would have been considering a holiday to Phuket in the months after who have had the most effect. And the effect of their decisions to travel elsewhere is what’s being felt now.

The TAT, forever talking up the numbers of Thai tourism, say they expect the Chinese travellers to return ‘by the end of the year’. We will see.

Marine officials and tourist police have established a number of important new measures to improve marine safety around Phuket, including checks of all 24 ports on a daily basis, spot safety inspections, rigorous weather reporting and minimum specifications for all safety gear carried on tour boats.

Supervising the successful salvage, Maj Gen Surachete Hakparn made it clear that the “government is determined to get to the root cause of the incident so that it can remedy and show sincerity to them,” referring to the families of the Chinese victims.

He predicted that once the court cases have been run, convictions made and people have gone to jail, only then will any semblance of confidence might be restored with the Chinese tourists.

In the months since the sinking Chinese travel companies have been sending their customers elsewhere for their holidays. Whether Phuket’s heyday as a Chinese tourism favourite is over is yet to be seen.

Phoenix returns to Phuket. But will the Chinese travellers return? | News by The Thaiger

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