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“New’ reef bigger than any in the region

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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“New’ reef bigger than any in the region | The Thaiger

PHANG NGA: Marine scientists are still charting the extent of an uncharted reef off Tai Muang, Phang Nga, covering, they say, at least four square kilometers – far larger than any known reef in the region.

The discovery of the reef, made in the first week of January, was documented by Songpol Tippayawong, Head of the Thailand Marine and Coastal Conservation Unit (MCCU) of the WWF (formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund). The MCCU were surveying a reef nearby when they were tipped off by local fishermen.

“We never thought the reef would be so large,” said K. Songpol, who is a Phang Nga native. “I have never even seen a reef that is [even] one kilometer square in Thailand, and so far we have surveyed four square kilometers of this new reef. It is actually bigger; we have yet to survey the exact boundaries.”

Describing the reef, K. Songpol told the Gazette, “It was great – very big and healthy. It is in good condition and only about 1% of it was damaged by the tsunami.

“It is completely different from the [reefs at] the Similans, Surin or Richelieu – it is not sloping, and it is home to species never before seen in Thai waters as well as species [that before were] seen only in the Similans, such as a rare type of sweet lips.

“We also found one rock [formation] with over 20 lobsters in it. We named that site ‘lobster condo’,” he said.

Although the MCCU has yet to complete its assessment of the reef, the team has so far recorded more than 30 genera of hard corals and 112 species of fish from 56 families, including the parrot fish Chlorurus rakaura, which has never been seen in Thai waters before.

For now, K. Songpol is keeping the location of the reef a secret in order to protect it. “I’m not telling anyone exactly where it is,” he said, adding that the reef must first be surveyed, the coral’s condition assessed and the boundaries of the reef established.

“We believe it will have the capability to boost tourism in the area [but only] when there is a good management plan [in place]. We are in the middle of doing a field survey and we are collecting scientific data in order to zone the area and put down some mooring buoys.”

K. Songpol expressed concern that enforcement of environment conservation laws was lacking, which might jeopardize the reef. “There are a lot of good laws in Thailand. However, enforcement needs to be more effective. It’s manageable, but we have to get involvement from all state authorities and other interested parties.”

He explained that a management strategy was crucial to protecting the reef. The strategy should include raising awareness among local people, zoning and the reintroduction of some rare species of marine life, promoting tourism with participation from local villagers, and continual coral restoration. “We have already introduced 100 giant clams [at the new reef],” he said. – Sylvie Yaffe



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Phuket

Phoenix design failures – Forensic probe begins

Kritsada Mueanhawong

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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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Phuket

Phoenix under high security at Rassada Pier

Kritsada Mueanhawong

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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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Phuket

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

Tim Newton

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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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Phuket Weather
November 19, 2018, 2:50 pm
28.7
°C
Temperature
100
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Humidity
9
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Wind from West-Northwest
0.0
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Rainfall
20
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Cloud Cover
39
Heat Index

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