Rougher seas ahead for Phuket’s dive industry

PHUKET CITY: A newly formed committee met at Phuket Provincial Hall on April 5 to discuss recent developments in the dive industry, particularly accusations leveled at the industry that some dive operators have been evading tax and employing staff without work permits.

Phuket’s Chief Administrative Officer (Palad) Nivit Aroonrat, claimed after the meeting that Phuket’s dive industry is “concealing” facts and that the government does not have enough overall information about operators and their employees.

He said that, despite the fact that the dive industry is an important part of the island’s tourism industry and is a rich source of income, the government should regulate operators more rigorously.

He pointed out that the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is responsible for dive operators’ registration, but that it records only the number of boats, the diving equipment and the number of dive masters employed .

“The TAT at first asked why the dive industry had suddenly become an issue as they are the ones who are supposed to regulate it.

“Yet when I asked if they knew if every dive master had a work permit or not, they admitted that they had never checked. The second question I brought up was whether import tax had been paid for their diving equipment or not. They had to admit that they hadn’t checked on that either.

“Also, does the TAT know how much coral is destroyed when [dive companies] go on diving trips? And does the TAT know how much we spend every year on restoring and looking after coral? Even though the dive industry says that they spend money here, [the amount is] nothing compared with the cost of coral upkeep.”

K. Nivit said that the committee had come to the conclusion that the province will have to take effective measures to control dive operators; to check their taxes and work permits, and the amount of damage they may have caused to coral.

He added, “I’d like these measures to be implemented this month, but we still have more issues to discuss.”

He said that the province will set up a committee to check and regulate dive operators before they are even eligible to register with the TAT. The task of the committee will be to check boat registration, work permits, import taxes, the length, quality and safety of diving courses, whether companies have Thai employees or not and, if so, whether they comply with Thai labor laws.

K. Nivit added that even though these measures might be regarded as tough, they would be “good for tourism in the future”.

“We don’t think that these regulations will deter dive operators from investing in Thailand. In the end they’ll thank us because we’ll get rid of the companies that give the industry a bad name,” he concluded.

Phuket News
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