THALANG: The Marine Office today began enforcing rules barring ferries from carrying both passengers and cargo, and limiting the number of passengers per ferry on all boats operating from the Bang Rong Pier, sparking fears that ferry operators may oppose the crackdown with a mob.
The move to enforce maritime safety regulations follows the deaths of 10 people in the sinking of the ferry Rungroj off the Koh Yao islands on March 5.
Phuket Marine Office chief Surin Theerakulpisut told the Gazette today, “I believe local people will not accept [the enforcement of safety regulations] at first, but it is good for the long term and good for themselves.
“I also think that a mob might be formed over this issue, but I’m not scared and I am ready to fight for the right reasons.”
K. Surin explained that the move to enforce safety regulations has resulted in ferry operators jacking up the standard fare for the 20-kilometer trip from 50 baht to 80 baht, in order to cover fuel costs as ferries must now have fewer passengers on board.
A resident of Koh Yao Noi told the Gazette that the fare in the other direction is now as much as 100 baht per person.
“The increase in fares is because of [officers’ efforts] to protect against overloading. Many boat owners have said that having only 20-odd passengers per trip, paying 50 baht each, is not enough to cover fuel costs,” K. Surin said.
K. Surin also blamed the overloading of the Rungroj on a “mafia” that has put a limit on the number of ferries operating between Bang Rong and the Koh Yao islands.
“The Rungroj was overloaded because it was the last ferry of the day [from Phuket to Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi].
“There are not enough ferry services [to and from the Koh Yao islands], but that is not because there are not enough boats; it is because there is a ‘mafia’ controlling the number of ferries [on the route].
“If the Marine Department is unable to solve this problem, the provincial governments [of Phuket and Phang Nga] have the authority to increase the number of regular ferries [to the islands],” he added.
K. Surin explained that the decision to crack down on maritime safety followed a meeting on Friday of water transportation officials from Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi provinces.
The meeting was chaired by Phang Nga Governor Anuwat Metheeviboonwut, who was ordered to investigate local Marine Office operations in the wake of the Rungroj disaster.
Those who attended Friday’s meeting are expected to meet again on Thursday, K. Surin added.
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