PHUKET: The Marine Department has announced that Thai-registered sailing vessels with a length of 16 meters (52.4 feet) or less no longer need to have a Thai skipper or crew on board when in Thai waters.
Phuket Marine Office Chief Surin Theerakulpisut told the Gazette today that the new rule came into effect on March 1.
Vincent Tabuteau, Managing Director of Asia Marine, a member of the Marine Alliance of Thailand (MAT), an informal consortium of marine businesses in Thailand, explained to the Gazette that the new rule also includes a definition of a sailboat, which did not exist previously under Thai marine regulations.
“Before, sailboats had to be categorized as being for transportation, for cargo or for fishing – but charter sailboats are none of these,” he said.
In technical terms, the new category defines sailing boats as having a sail area:displacement ratio of at least 9:1. The rule does not state what units are used in the calculation, but the Gazette understands that it is based on the UK maritime law Blue code, which stipulates square meters for sail area and metric tons for displacement.
The lack of a definition of a sailboat created confusion with government departments when applying for commercial licenses, as boat operating licenses are classified according to their use, Mr Tabuteau explained.
“Without a proper definition of a sailing boat it was difficult for government officials to regulate the commercial activity of yacht charter,” he said, though he added that most government departments took a “sympathetic” stance over the lack of provision for sailboats in the law.
The new definition alleviates a major insurance headache for bareboat charters, Mr Tabuteau said. “Before it was so ambiguous that – although this never happened – there was a worry that an insurance company might claim that a bareboat charter was improperly insured because it was being operated without a professional crew.
“But another interpretation of the law could be that there was no requirement for a professional crew because the boat was not being used for transportation or for fishing,” he said.
He added that the new definition also helps with financing new projects involving sailboats. “Financial institutions do not like business plans with elements of uncertainty,” he said.
Mr Tabuteau explained that the new rules would have little effect on the operational level of bareboat charters. “There will be no layoffs because bareboat charters did not have Thai captains or crew on board,” he said, adding that the same applied to safety.
“There was no permanent crew on board anyway. The boat owner carries the risk of incurring the insurance premium, but it’s a commonly accepted concept. We even did a brochure for bareboat charters with the TAT [Tourism Authority of Thailand],” he said.
Meanwhile, at Ao Chalong, the Phuket Marine Office has announced it will enforce regulations designating areas for foreign vessels to moor in an attempt to control marine traffic, prevent criminal activity and reduce damage to reefs.
K. Surin said that the regulations are designed to tackle disorder caused by the large number of yachts that come to moor in Phuket.
Royal Thai Marine Law dictates that foreign vessels must tie up in Chalong Bay so that officials can check the boat before it sails to other destinations, he said, and all vessels must register at Phuket Pier Controlling Center, also in Chalong.
“Anyone who ignores this order is liable to a fine of between 500 baht and 5,000 baht, or up to three months in jail, or both,” K. Surin stressed.
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