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Similans park chief warns Phuket dive tour operators



PHUKET: The chief at the Mu Ko Similan National Park has warned that tour operators entering the park without a permit after its November 1 reopening may face a 10,000 baht fine – or even have their tourism license revoked.

The warning follows park officers at the Similans over past few weeks handing out booklets explaining a number of regulations that took effect from November 30 last year.

Although the park is closed to tour groups during the low season, officers are still there and many tour operators run “familiarization trips” or survey dive sites at this time of year in preparation for the high season.

“The new rules promote tourist safety and encourage operators to set up activities that adhere to our requirements,” said Similans park chief Panumas Sanseemeam.

“The focus will be on boat operators, such as dive tour operators, who must have National Park permission to operate in the area. Some operators are not fully complying with the regulations,” he added.

“I have heard that during the ‘off season’, from May 1 to October 31, when the park is closed, some operators entered the park. We have not ignored this.

“Under the new regulations, offenders will be fined 500 baht per person per day. Operators may face sterner punishment, including being charged with entering a restricted area without permission. For this, they may be fined 10,000 baht or even have their boat tourism license canceled,” the park chief warned.

The new regulations also focus on tourist safety, Mr Panumas explained.

“Boats entering the park must have appropriate safety equipment on board and have suitable safety procedures in place,” he said.

“I urge boat operators to obey the rules so we can develop our national parks to world heritage standard. I also ask them be more concerned with tourist safety, and not just looking to make a profit,” he added.

Nontawit Jaturabundit, park chief at Sirinat National Park at Nai Yang, said he had yet to decide on how the regulations would be applied there.

Officers at Mu Ko Phi-Phi National Park and at Mu Ko Lanta National Park confirmed to the Gazette that their offices also had yet to decide on how the regulations would be applied in their parks.

Paitoon Panchaiphum, head of the regional Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) office in Phuket, said his office would like to introduce similar measures to protect dive and snorkeling sites off Phuket.

“It’s good that national parks can use these regulations. We want to use the same rules in other non-national park areas, but the problem is enforcement.

“We could adapt the regulation to use in some areas such as Koh Khai or Koh Racha by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with locals and tour operators instead,” he explained.

“But the only way to truly preserve important environmental sites is through common sense in conservation. Although there are laws, there will always be people breaking the rules,” he added.

— Sitthipong Nongkaew


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