Doubt thrown on jet-ski ban plan
PHUKET TOWN: Following Governor Udomsak Usawarangkura’s announcement in late December that jet-skis will be phased out in Phuket over a seven-year period, the Phuket Marine Office (PMO) has set a January 31 deadline for jet-ski owners to register their machines. From February 1 the PMO will begin cracking down on unregistered machines, underage riders and other violations. But the man responsible for bringing order to the unregulated industry, which has claimed the lives of two foreign tourists in recent months, seems daunted by the task. Newly-appointed PMO Chief Kritpetch Chaichuay told the Gazette that current efforts are focused only on registering jet-skis and promoting their safe use. He said that phasing them out completely, as Gov Udomsak has ordered, could harm tourism. He admitted that he felt it would be impractical to enforce long-ignored regulations requiring tourists who rent jet-skis to have Thai Helmsman Level 2 licenses, a qualification that requires two years’ documented proof of experience aboard a Thai-flagged ship. He acknowledged that any tourists caught operating a jet-ski without a Helmsman’s 2 license should in theory be liable to six months in prison, a 5,000-baht fine, or both – but he said it would be impractical to enforce such a law because it would mean the overnight death of the jet-ski rental business in Phuket. He said, however, that regulations allowing customers under 17 years of age to ride jet-skis only as passengers would be strictly enforced. Turning to jet-ski registration, K. Kripetch said that many jet-ski owners have been unable to produce the necessary import and sales documents that would allow them to register their craft. “The deadline is January 31,” he said. “[As of January 22] we have registered about 30 to 40 jet-skis in Patong, but just as many remain unregistered because their owners failed to submit proper import and sales documents. We have registered 24 more at Bang Tao beach and 34 at Karon”. “Owners who fail to meet the deadline and continue to use unregistered jet-skis after January 31 will be fined 10,000 baht each time we catch them,” he warned. They would not, however, be sent to jail. He said officers would distribute brochures at beaches to ensure that everyone was aware of the regulations, adding that Patong would be the primary focus of the enforcement effort. Other measures were being taken, he said, to protect both swimmers and tourists who rent jet-skis. “We have already zoned swimming areas along beaches, and we will put up signs warning tourists about the potential dangers of jet-skis,” he said. “The signs will also list guidelines for their safe operation, such as the need to wear life jackets.” He noted that many tourists drive jet-skis recklessly. K. Kritpetch said all sides need to work together to improve safety and that no single agency could improve the situation on its own. “Without a continuous effort, jet-ski operators will just fall back into their old ways,” he added. “Regarding the current plan that [aims to] put all jet-ski operators out of business in seven years, we will have to review the situation two or three years before that deadline to see if jet-skis are still a major cause of injury and complaints by tourists and a common factor in crime cases. “If that’s the case, the province will probably have to go ahead and ban jet-skis altogether,” he said. Vice-Governor Pongpow Ketthong reiterated that the government was committed to ridding the island of jet-skis within seven years. He told the Gazette that regulations would be strictly enforced and that any jet-ski seen being operated by a minor would be seized immediately. But he also dismissed the idea of enforcing the law requiring the Helmsman 2 license as impractical because the qualification is available only to Thais.
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