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Raging Phuket black market passport trade

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Raging Phuket black market passport trade | Thaiger

PHUKET: Police have admitted they are powerless to prevent motorcycle and car rental operators from holding foreign tourists’ passports as collateral against potential damage to rented vehicles.

The news comes as the island’s top police officers try to stymie the fallout from international news reports branding Phuket a key source for stolen passports in the wake of the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 last Saturday (story here).

Two men, Iranian nationals believed to be asylum seekers heading to Europe via Beijing, boarded the flight using passports stolen in Phuket (story here).

One of the passports was taken from a massage salon in Patong that was holding the essential travel document as collateral (story here).

“Something needs to be done, especially after learning that these two passports were used to board the plane,” Phuket Provincial Police Deputy Commander Arayapan Pukbuakao said on Wednesday.

“We are looking into what measures we can take, but as far as I know, there is no law in Thailand prohibiting foreigners from handing his or her own passport to another person to hold as per their own agreement.”

Col Arayapan said his officers will launch a campaign calling for rental vehicle operators to refrain from holding passports.

“They must understand that every passport remains the property of the government that issued it,” he explained.

Such campaigns have been held time and again in Phuket, usually resulting from a collective, concerted push by ambassadors and honorary consuls. Last July, Tourism and Sports Minister Somsak Pureesrisak himself blankly called for an end to the age-old practice of foreigners’ passports being held as a condition of renting motorbikes, cars and jet-skis (story here).

As recently as February 27, following reports of foreigners using a third party’s passport to rent and then steal several motorbikes on Koh Samui and in Krabi, Patong Police Deputy Superintendent Akanit Danpitaksat reminded vehicle rental agents that they were permitted to hold copies of passports, but not the original documents themselves (story here).

Regardless, the practice remains.

Although Col Arayapan confessed his officers were powerless to take action against vehicle operators, he warned that tourists were required by law to carry their passports at all times.

“Foreigners must be aware that if they fail to present their passports to authorities when requested, they could be fined or even deported,” he said.

The pressure to clean up Phuket’s raging stolen passport trade follows Italian tourist Luigi Maraldi having his passport handed over to a man who claimed to be Mr Maraldi’s “partner” while Mr Maraldi was on holiday in Phuket last year.

Mr Maraldi, 37, was listed as a passenger on Flight MH370, but was later found safe at a guesthouse on Nanai Road in Patong, and in possession of a new passport.

Somsak Sornsut, owner of BN Massage in Patong, which was holding Mr Maraldi’s passport last year as collateral on a motorbike he had rented, explained, “We kept his passport at the shop but, if he needed it for any reason, he could come back and borrow it as long as he returned it by the end of the day,” he said.

“My staff called to tell me that a foreigner had come to collect his passport. I asked her who and she said Mr Maraldi. I knew that he always brought his passport back to the shop in time, so I let my staff give it to him.”

The man who took Mr Maraldi’s passport left a Russian woman’s passport in exchange.

“My staff said she showed the man she thought was Mr Maraldi four passports and let him choose his own. The man collected one of them and left another in exchange, saying it belonged to his wife,” Mr Somsak said.

“She did not doubt that it was Mr Maraldi because the man who collected the passport looked similar to the picture.”

Mr Somsak said he had forgotten about the exchange until Mr Maraldi came to the shop asking for his passport.

“I told him that he had already taken his passport and had yet to return it,” said Mr Somsak.

“We then checked all the passports we had and called every customer to ask if they had taken the wrong one. All of them confirmed they had not.”

After waiting three days in case someone returned the passport, Mr Somsak and Mr Maraldi reported it missing to the Patong Police.

Mr Somsak told the Phuket Gazette that he knew holding passports was wrong, but claimed he gave tourists a choice.

“Customers can either leave their passport as a guarantee, or they can leave a copy of their passport and pay a cash deposit. The cash deposit is about 5,000 to 10,000 baht for motorcycles, and about 10,000 to 20,000 baht for cars,” he said.

Regular customers were exempt. “If we know the person well enough, all we require is their passport number,” he said.

Additional reporting by Kritsada Mueanhawong.

— Chutharat Plerin

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Tourism

Phuket’s July Sandbox no-quarantine model “needs a major revamp”

Tim Newton

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Phuket’s July Sandbox no-quarantine model “needs a major revamp” | Thaiger
PHOTO: The monsoon waves are starting to hit Phuket's west coast

Thailand’s Sports and Tourism minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn is acknowledging that Phuket’s ‘Sandbox’ model for a no-quarantine re-opening in July will need “a major revamp”. As the Songkran travel bubble bursts and the monsoon season waves start to roll onto the island’s west coast beaches, Phuket’s scheduled July re-boot suddenly seems a long way off.

Minister Phiphat says he plans to meet with “all related agencies” this week. Apart from the latest national re-surge in new infections, Phuket has been unable to get its hands on sufficient vaccines to meed its deadline of 70% of the island vaccinated by July 1. Thailand’s limited supplies of the vaccine – including some 930,000 doses designated for Phuket – are being rerouted to other provinces as the government prioritises the limited supply.

“We are all concerned about the reopening timeline,” he was quoted in Bangkok Post.

But the Minister did acknowledge that, if the 70% vaccination level couldn’t be met, they may consider opening some areas of the island. Exactly how that would work hasn’t been revealed at this stage.

The minister also brought up the ongoing travel bubble negotiations and says he hadn’t heard back from some of the candidates with their reaction to the current outbreak.

Flights in and out of Phuket Airport’s international terminal have been extremely patchy and the flights from feeder tourist markets will need to co-operate with any re-opening plans.

Phuket, whilst suffering a rise in new infections, hasn’t been hit as hard as some of the other popular holiday provinces, like Chiang Mai, Chon Buri (Pattaya) and Prachuap Khiri Khan (Hua Hin).

This year’s Songkran was going to be a major stepping stone for the island’s recovery and many hotels, some who had opened especially to cater for Songkran holiday traffic, noted a lot of cancellations just prior to the break.

But some island hotels have still reported high occupancy rates over the past week. One Manager, who did not want his name published, said that their hotel was almost full with Thai patrons, most who had pre-paid for their flights and accommodation and decided to go ahead anyway.

Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, the president of the Phuket Tourist Association, says that they are opposed to any lockdown as it would cripple the island, with its tourist businesses already suffering greatly. He stated that 15% of people cancelled their Songkran bookings, while 30% had postponed their trips.

The Sports and Tourism Ministers is still in quarantine after having close contact with Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, who was diagnosed with Covid-19 2 weeks ago.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Phuket begs Kolour attendees to come for Covid-19 testing

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Phuket begs Kolour attendees to come for Covid-19 testing | Thaiger
FILE PHOTO: Kolour in the park was more pleasant in 2018 before Covid-19.

Health officials in Phuket put out a public statement this week compelling all foreigners who attended clubs and ‘Kolour’ events to report for Covid-19 testing. As many might expect, the response has been lacklustre at best. Spreading the message around the foreigner and expat community in Phuket, the message is aimed at the multitudes of people, mostly foreign who attended Kolour and related events that turned into a Covid-19 superspreader event. Many foreigners have not come forward, much to health officials chagrin.

Online and on social media, foreigners and Thais shed light on why this urgent public health request is going largely unheeded. Foreigners fear the repercussions of coming forward, especially since Thailand is not allowing staying home or elsewhere in isolation if someone tests positive for Covid-19. Quarantine is mandatory, and with infection numbers exploding across the country, many fear the less-than-posh comforts of being quarantined in an emergency field hospital.

Cost is the other factor that likely is preventing foreigners from turning themselves in to be tested for Covid-19. While Phuket health officials may test people for free, anyone found infected with Covid-19 will be financially responsible for all the costs of their treatment and quarantine. Foreigners with limited financial resources, especially after a year of holing up in Thailand to ride out the Coronavirus, may resist reporting to authorities when they cannot afford the mandatory quarantine and medical treatment.

Perhaps recognizing this hesitation, the message includes a plea for all attendees to self-quarantine and self-monitor for any symptoms over the next week, even if they fail to report or test negative. The note also reminds everyone to wear masks in public at all times. The statement to the public also instructed anyone who attended any of the Covid-19 spreading nightlife events to report to the Acute Respiratory Infection Clinic area of Vachira General Hospital to receive a Covid-19 swab test.

SOURCE: The Pattaya News

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions

Tim Newton

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Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions | Thaiger

Three of Thailand’s biggest expat areas are seeing sharp rises in new infections, partly from pre-Songkran traffic. The Songkran holidays, now officially over (but will see many people taking today off and making a weekend Songkran extension), and the government says they are expecting to see a rise in the cases numbers reported in the popular holiday locations.

Chon Buri Public Health office says they now have a total of 910 infections since April 1. They have 103 new cases in the past 24 hours. Most new cases are in Bang Lamung district which includes Pattaya City with 47, Siracha with 12) & Chon buri City with 8.

Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions | News by Thaiger

Meanwhile Phuket has a total of 142 infections recorded on the island with the Governor still insisting there will be no need for a lockdown. Here’s a breakdown of the areas and the numbers of recorded infections so far (below).

Governor Narong announced that the Phuket Infectious Disease Control Committee won’t be implementing an official lockdown, but will “strictly raise the intensity of public health measures to counter the spread of Covid-19″.

“Everyone should wear a face mask, maintain social distancing, wash their hands frequently and install the Mor Chana app (available for free from App Store and Google Play Store).”

A meeting of the CCSA, chaired by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha is expected to upgrade restrictions in red zone areas around the country, which includes Phuket and Pattaya. Read more about the latest red and orange zones HERE.

Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions | News by Thaiger

For Hua Hin expats, there’s been 100 new Covid-19 infections announced in Prachuap Khiri Khan in the past 24 hours, 75 cases from Hua Hin. This takes the total in the province since April 1 to 625. Hua Hin accounts for nearly 90% of the district’s total cases.

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