Kata boatmen blockade Amancruises yacht

KATA: A dispute over business territory led to a seaborne blockade at Kata Beach this morning in which a motor launch from the exclusive Amanpuri resort was forced to sail without eight passengers. The 38-foot motor yacht Maritess, operated by Amancruises, had been booked to pick up four adults and four children from Kata Beach, and take them to Phi Phi. But when local boatmen saw the Maritess at Kata and realized it was picking up passengers, they sprang into action, preventing it from leaving for about an hour. Mongkol Maneesri, captain of the Amancruises yacht, told the Gazette that he had an appointment to pick up the guests at 8:30 am. “I beached the boat and the guests got aboard,” he said. “At least six boat operators then told me that the boat couldn’t take guests from the beach and that the guests had to get out again.” The boatmen included longtail and speedboat operators, he said. He added that, normally, the boat picked up guests at Bang Tao Beach or at the Boat Lagoon. Today was the first time an appointment had been made for a pick-up at Kata. “The passengers were not pleased,” he said. “I think they [the boatmen] should be flexible in cases like this. Sometimes, guests from Kata arrange a pick-up at Bang Tao Beach – there are no bans on boats going to Bang Tao to pick up passengers.” He said that, as a compromise, he had suggested the boatmen ferry the guests out to the Maritess but they had refused to do so. In the end the guests had to take a car to Chalong where they were picked up from the pier. “I don’t know why [the local boatman] did that,” he said, “Maybe it’s because we were picking up guests in ‘their area’. In future we may collect passengers from Chalong Pier because we don’t want any more problems with local operators.” Samrit Taweesaman, President of the Rak Kata Karon (Love Kata Karon) Club told the Gazette that he owns two speedboats and has operated them for more than 10 years. “I get about 10,000 baht [a month] from this business. It’s an income for local people who live in the area. If we don’t keep it for local people, what will they do for a living?” Met Chulak, President of the Longtail Boat Club of Kata, Kata Noi and Karon, said that if other boats come to do business at Kata or Karon beaches, the captains should ask for permission from the local organization first, by contacting the Kata-Karon Municipality. If more boats came to these beaches from elsewhere, he said, this would affect local operators because tourists would go with those boats instead. “We have divided up the area for picking up guests,” he noted. For example, he said, boat operators from Kata would not pick up customers at Karon Beach and vice versa. The Chief Administrative Officer of Karon Municipality, Thawatchai Tongmung, said, “We need to have a well-organized plan for good tourism. Otherwise people will just come from everywhere and set up business at will.” He explained that local people – taxi drivers, beach chair owners, longtail boatmen, jet-ski operators and masseuses – all earned their income from tourism. Each group has specific membership and regulations. “These groups are members of the Rak Kata KaronClub,” he said. “The club has agreements with the municipality and also liaises with other local committees. “Although the law doesn’t specifically say that we can or cannot do this, social rules make it a suitable arrangement,” he said. “For example, with such things as motorbike taxis in Karon, the issues need to be discussed first. Although there are no legal bans, if [local] people were to agree that motorcycle taxis were not suitable, we would usually ask for cooperation to end their use.” K. Thawatchai added that there are 38 longtail boats and nine speedboats operating off the three beaches. Because of the agreement between the municipality and the club, no more boats are allowed to operate in the area. He explained, “If one new boat [is allowed to come] here to transport tourists, then more will come, and it will no longer be well organized.” Local monopolies such as this are common on Phuket. Fifteen months ago demonstrations and threats of violence by tuk-tuk drivers stopped safari companies from picking up their own customers from hotels in the Kata-Karon area. Instead, the customers were forced to use local tuk-tuks or taxis.

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