PHUKET: An hour of intense negotiations today finally ended with taxi drivers and tour agencies signing an agreement to end blockades at Phuket’s Deep Sea Port.
Most, but not all, parties present at the meeting at Provincial Hall today signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which was outlined by verbal agreement following the blockade of tourists attempting to disembark the luxury cruise liner Silver Spirit in April.
The MoU, effective immediately, invoked the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code), which is defined by the International Maritime Organization as a “comprehensive set of measures to enhance the security of ships and port facilities”.
Under the agreement, all signatories agree to not block access to the port.
Mediators and witnesses to the signing of the MoU included Vice Governor Weerawat Janpen, Phuket Marine Office Chief Phuripat Theerakulpisut and Phuket City Police Chief Chote Chitchai.
Under the terms of the agreement, the taxi operators and tour agencies serving the port are to have equal access to the tourists arriving, with no more than a “10% difference in the share”.
The tour companies also agreed to inform the taxi cartel which tour operators were scheduling tours to arrive in Phuket and how many tourists were expected to arrive – so that sufficient taxis would be available – at least one day before the cruise ship docked at the port.
A clear point was that no free bus transfer service will be allowed to serve tourists and crews arriving at the facility.
Both sides agreed that the MoU could be later amended by future agreements and that any parties wanting to withdraw from the MoU can do so with just 30 days’ written notice.
However, Suwat Deejingtrakul of tour operator Regale International, expressed his disapproval of the 50:50 split. He told the meeting that he wanted to send the MoU to his company’s head office in Bangkok.
Sea Tour representative Kanjana Sae-im also initially declined to sign the agreement, saying that she would need to get advice from her company’s lawyers in Bangkok first.
Sea Tour was the company that ran the tour that brought the luxury cruise liner Silver Spirit to Phuket in April, only to have their tourists’ trips ashore blockaded by local taxi and tuk-tuk drivers.
Vice Governor Weerawat explained that signing an MoU would not require legal consultation, and Phuket Marine Police Chief Phuripat, who was instrumental in having the MoU drawn up, expressed his frustration.
“The letter informing [all the parties] about the signing of the MoU was already sent to the tour companies [before today] and we’ve already held meetings in order to draft this MoU.
“I would really like to finish this problem. Actually, I don’t need to work on this, but I think there must be someone to mediate between the two sides,” he told the meeting.
“If we cannot successfully resolve this problem now, I will leave it to you and you will realize how important it was to have resolved the problem [at this time],” he added.
Mr Suwat finally capitulated and signed the agreement.
Later, after speaking with her associates in Bangkok, Ms Kanjana also said she would sign the document.
Present during the discussions was Narong Kumban, village head of Moo 7 in Wichit.
He regurgitated the message relayed by Wichit Deputy Mayor Chairat Kumban, who on May 4 told the press that it was unfair to characterize the taxi drivers as “mafia”.
“They are local people just trying to earn a living to feed their families,” Mr Narong said today.
He said previous talks between local taxi drivers and tour operator Sea Tour broke down, leading to the blockade.
“The company didn’t follow through with any past [verbal] agreements, so it is important for an MoU to be signed.
“If not, and tour companies do the same again, then tour agencies will have to anchor their ships in Patong instead,” he said.
— Atchaa Khamlo
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