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Tourists offer high praise for rescue efforts after storm sinks dive boat north of Phuket

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Tourists offer high praise for rescue efforts after storm sinks dive boat north of Phuket | The Thaiger
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PHUKET: Tourists have heaped high praise on all those involved in the rescue of 30 people from a sinking dive boat and the safe recovery of 425 others after a severe storm left a flotilla of tour boats returning from the Similan Islands stranded at Koh Ta Chai, north of Phuket.

The 24-meter dive boat Little Princess, with 30 people on board, sank within minutes of being struck by a succession of large waves in a freak storm in the Similan National Park yesterday (story here).

The boat sank about seven kilometers off Koh Ta Chai, off the Phang Nga coast.

All passengers and crew were immediately and safely evacuated from the boat after the captain and tour leader raised the alarm, Stefan Kaesweber of Khao Lak Scuba Adventures told the Phuket Gazette.

The only injuries reported were two Thai staff members, who suffered superficial injuries, and were the last to leave the boat after ensuring that it was clear of all passengers and crew.

“In the morning, we had two dives in Koh Bon. The conditions were normal, not really fantastic weather, but not bad weather. We made two dives there because there is always one part of the island that is sheltered, where the sea is calm. The dives were great, we even saw manta rays,” explained Vivi Bernarbi who was on board the Little Princess moments before the boat sank.

As the boat headed toward Koh Ta Chai, another boat radioed that a big storm was on the rise.

“We could see the sea conditions worsening and we were taking on board some water. We tried to go back to Koh Bon, but it was even worse,” Ms Bernarbi said.

Realizing they were caught in the storm, the captain sought shelter on the leeward side of Koh Ta Chai, she added. Within minutes the waves rose from one meter to four and five meters.

As the boat turned around to head back toward Koh Ta Chai it was struck by three large waves, causing the boat to take on water and dip port side. The captain quickly raised the alarm and passengers grabbed life jackets and buoyancy control devices – and began to jump ship.

“We were really lucky that God was with us. It was so unexpected because a speedboat can easily capsize, but a boat as big and strong as the Little Princess – it was really unbelievable. I’ve been at sea many times and I would have never, ever thought we could sink, but it happened,” Ms Bernarbi said.

“Once in the water, we all stayed together and tried to give everyone encouragement… The experience was like the [movie] Titanic… I could see the boat, maybe the last three meters going down, it went so fast… it went so, so fast,” she added.

Fishing vessels in the area quickly rescued everyone from the water and from a deployed emergency raft, bringing them to one of the dive boat’s sister vessels.

“I would like to thank the fishing crew. I want to really thank them. We could see that some of them could not even swim, but they jumped into the water to try to help us,” Ms Bernarbi told the Gazette.

“The trip leader of our sister ship, all the staff and all of the guests welcomed us. And they gave us clothes, food, drink and everything we needed. And we had a kind of party because we were so happy we all made it,” she added.

In response to the SOS calls from the Little Princess before she went down, the Royal Thai Navy dispatched the HTMS Pattani, which brought everyone originally on board the sunken boat, as well as 425 others stranded on Koh Ta Chai, back to the mainland. Many of the tourists needing rescue from the island had arrived by speedboat.

“I would also like to thank the Royal Thai Navy because they were so welcoming and provided us with food and cigarettes; they even tried to cheer us up with some beer,” she added.

The Royal Thai Navy was greeted at the port by Khao Lak Scuba Adventures’s support team, which had flip-flops and towels ready in addition to minibuses that quickly transported their guests and staff to a four-star resort in Khao Lak.

The support team, complete with doctors*, provided assistance to everyone rescued, Mr Kaesweber said.

Psychologists were part of the team to deal with any psychological effects caused by the incident, and the variety of nationalities on the team ensured that those involved could receive support in their native tongue, Mr Kaesweber explained.

“I really have to say the organization of Thailand Khao Lak Scuba Adventure, the navy, the fisherman, everything was so amazing,” chimed in Ms Bernarbi. “I’m Italian, and I am really very impressed. I don’t know if any European country would have been so well organized.”

Guests, who were refunded for the trip, are now being assisted in securing new passports from their embassies in Bangkok, Mr Kaesweber said.

“The owner and manager are extremely grateful to the boat crew together with all the guests who did a very professional job to evacuate the boat with no loss of life,” Mr Kaesweber said.

The Little Princess now rests at a depth of about 70 meters.

“I have no idea how much the boat is worth, but it is quite expensive because it was a proper boat fully maintained throughout the season. She was made of chrome and teak wood – there was even an ice-cube maker on board,” he added.

Attempts to locate and salvage parts of the ship will be carried out next week by a professional technical diving team, Mr Kaesweber said.

* The story originally reported that psychologists were also available for those in need. It has since been clarified that people were available to provide mental and emotional support, but none were trained psychologists.

— Isaac Stone Simonelli

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Thailand

UPDATE: Confusion over Covid-19 tests for visa extensions

Caitlin Ashworth

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UPDATE: Confusion over Covid-19 tests for visa extensions | The Thaiger

Confusion reigns today over whether Covid-19 tests will be required for visa extensions. While The Phuket News spoke with an immigration official who said “no… you don’t need a Covid-19 test to extend your visa or apply for a work permit”, Khaosod English wrote an article headlined “Covid-19 test will be mandatory for all visa extension”.

The Thaiger also contacted a respected visa agent who said Covid-19 tests are, indeed, now required for applying for both visa extensions and work permits, even renewals.

The Thai Immigration Bureau has not made any official announcement regarding Covid-19 tests. Talk about Covid-19 tests for foreigners was brought up after a rule was published in the Royal Gazette last month, officially adding Covid-19 to a list of dangerous diseases, prohibiting those infected with any of the listed illnesses from entering the country.

Immigration Police Bureau spokesperson Archayon Kraithong told Khaosod English that proof of a negative Covid-19 test will be required for visa extensions, regardless of how long a foreigner has stayed in Thailand. On the other hand, Phuket immigration deputy chief Nareuwat Putthawiro told The Phuket News that Covid-19 tests will not be required for visa extensions or work permit applications.

“We do not require any medical documents for an application to renew a visa, because there are few foreigners’ movements outside Phuket. Most of them live and work in Phuket, and have done so before the new wave of Covid-19… So they do not have to worry about it. Everything is still the same.”

Medical exams are currently already required for most work permit applicants (including tests for Syphilis and Elephantiasis). A visa agent told The Thaiger that Covid-19 tests have been added to the medical examination requirements for work permit applicants. But, on the other hand, Phuket immigration says they DO NOT require Covid-19 tests for work permit applicants.

“We have not received any notices about Covid-19 requirements for processing applications to renew visas. If we do receive any such orders, we will let the public know.”

It isn’t the first time there has been conflicting statements coming out of different officials, in different immigration offices on different days.

SOURCES: Phuket News| Khaosod English

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Visitors to Phuket from “highest risk” areas must show Covid-19 test results

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Visitors to Phuket from “highest risk” areas must show Covid-19 test results | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Chiang Rai Times

People arriving Phuket from the “highest risk” areas are required to take a swab test by the staff at emergency operation centres (EOC) or show the test result document endorsed by the EOC staff made within 72 hours of their arrival. The revised order is effective from now until January 31, according to the Phuket Governor.

Those people who are on a brief business trip to Phuket need to show certificates from their employers describing the reason and necessity of their trips. If they want to leave their accommodations, they have to make a request to the EOC and clearly explain the reason as well as the time and destination. Visitors are also asked to avoid going to the community areas to avoid crowded gatherings.

It is noted that the revised order by the governor has not been officially promoted by the Phuket office of the Public Relations Department. However, all visitors are still asked to register online via the Mor Chana contact tracing application and via www.gophuget.com according to the order re-issued on Friday.

SOURCE: Phuket News

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Tourism

The road less travelled – trekking to the Kalim Viewpoint

The Thaiger

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The road less travelled – trekking to the Kalim Viewpoint | The Thaiger

There are two well known ways to get from Kathu to Kalim or Kamala – one is across the Patong Hill, and the other is much longer, through Srisoonthorn and along the coastal road from Surin the Kamala (very scenic too).

But there’s also another way. Also very scenic but will take you about 2 hours through dense forest although there is a well-worn walking track. The track will take you from Kathu up to the Kalim Viewpoint. From here you can head back to Kathu along a different path, or down into Kalim, near Patong.

Starting about halfway down Soi Namtok in Kathu, you head up a nondescript road past the Flying Hanuman zipline attraction, although there’s no sign at the entrance to the soi (below). About the first kilometre is paved but then becomes increasingly ‘agricultural’ as you get higher into the hills, heading towards the Kalim Viewpoint. There’s also a small temple on the way up.

The road less travelled - trekking to the Kalim Viewpoint | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: The start of the trek, a small soi off Soi Namtok – Google Maps

It will take around 2 hours to trek up to the Kalim Viewpoint. The walking is quite strenuous and you’ll need to be wearing the right shoes and take plenty of water – there’s no 7/11s on the way! As you get nearer the top, to the viewpoint, the track becomes less drivable although the track is still quite open and easy to follow. If you’re feeling a bit lazy you can take a motorbike about halfway up the road until you’ll need to proceed on foot from there.

From the Kalim Viewpoint you can see across Kalim to Patong Bay and the land that stretches along the bay south of Patong Beach. From the top you can either make your way down to Kalim or another exit along the Kalim-Kamala Road, just near the Iguana Beach Club.

You can also head back another way to Kathu, a longer return track that skirts around the top of the Kathu Waterfall. A lot of that track gets very narrow and parts of it are up and down the hills, some of it very steep.

The views are amazing and you get to see a vast swathe of Phuket, still very close to popular locations like Patong, Kamala and Kathu, but untouched by any civilisation.

You’ll need to be in reasonable health to take on the trip but, just to go up to the Kalim Viewpoint and back, or down into Kalim, should take around 5 hours in total. On a scale of 1 – 5 for difficulty, we’d rate it a 3. An easy trek for experienced people but will need a bit of planning if you’re not an experienced trekker.

Even on a hazy day, as it was today, the views were amazing. But best to start off early morning when the weather is cooler. Well worth the time for the views and the opportunity to see more of Phuket, away from the bars and beaches.

Thanks to BT for the pics and information.

The road less travelled - trekking to the Kalim Viewpoint | News by The Thaiger

The road less travelled - trekking to the Kalim Viewpoint | News by The ThaigerThe road less travelled - trekking to the Kalim Viewpoint | News by The Thaiger

The road less travelled - trekking to the Kalim Viewpoint | News by The Thaiger

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