PHUKET: According to several local dive shops, at least three tourists have suffered a somewhat ‘amazing’ experience over the past two weeks when tourist police accused them of being illegal divemasters, instructors, or guides. Two of them were Japanese unable to speak English. They were arrested and had to be bailed out, for 100,000 baht each, by the dive shop of which they were customers. Another, an Englishman, was, according to the manager of the shop he was diving with, “harassed” by the police for nearly half an hour before the shop was able to produce evidence that he was, in fact, a tourist, and not a member of the company’s staff. Following the incident, the hapless holiday-maker returned home immediately. As a result of these incidents and about ten recent arrests at Chalong Pier of foreign instructors working for various local dive shops, approximately 30 shop operators held a meeting at the Kata Beach Resort last night to address the problem and the damage which they say has been inflicted on the tourism industry here. The instructor arrests occurred in the presence, and to the dismay, of their shops’ customers, almost all of whom were foreign tourists. Although the instructors held valid certificates and work permits, they did not hold the “tour guide” licenses which the tourist police now say are required of them. The guide licenses are issued by the Tourism Authority of Thailand [TAT]. At last night’s meeting, Jeroen Deknatel of Fantasea Divers, a pioneer in the diving industry here, emphasized the importance of establishing an organization to represent the shops. “It is impossible to be 100% legal, as the law is ambiguous. We need a forum. If we don’t get together, no one will listen to us.” Phuket Senator Paiboon Upatising met today with Deknatel and Pol Lt Col Chak Onnim, inspector of the local tourist police. According to Deknatel, the senator suggested to the inspector that in a case like this where the law is not clear, the police should call a meeting to inform any interested parties of changes in policies so as to give these parties time to adapt. He also suggested that arrests not be made in front of tourists. Following the meeting with Senator Paiboon, Pol Lt Col Chak went on to meet with Anupharp Thirarath, Director of the TAT Southern Office, Region 4, to resolve matters. “We have reached a conclusion with the TAT today,” Pol Lt Col Chak told the Gazette. “We [the tourist police] will continue to do our job and will arrest – still — the dive shops who have registered their businesses improperly. Also, regarding work permits, we will continue to arrest those without them. You have to understand that laws are laws. “The only one thing that we will put to rest now is about the guide license. This is because foreigners — I am not sure if you know — cannot have a guide license in Thailand.” It is, however, not known how long the guide license issue for diving instructors will be held in abeyance. According to Pol Lt Col Chak, that is up to the authorities in Bangkok. The dive shop operators have now scheduled a meeting for Monday, March 20, to pursue establishment of their long-sought diving organization. “We invite all dive shop operators to join us, including Thai companies, because we are trying to protect the dive industry,” said Jeroen, whose shop, also on Monday, will go on trial to defend itself over the ‘no-guide-license’ charge.
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