Tsunami blame report to be buried

BANGKOK (The Nation): The public will not hear whether the Meteorological Department failed in its duty to warn people about December’s devastating tsunami, Smith Thammasaroj, the chief of the investigation into the disaster, said yesterday.

K. Smith said a report into the incident might never be written.

He said that he would conceal a tsunami report from the public out of patriotism in order to protect national interests, because some 60 relatives of Western tourists who died in the massive waves in southern Thailand might use the information in their lawsuit against the government.

“I will not and I cannot reveal it – and the report may never be published … No way, because it has become a lawsuit issue and could cause much damage,” he said.

He added that billions of baht could be lost if the Meteorological Department were found guilty of failing to warn the public and tourists in the provinces struck by the tsunami.

Last month, 19 relatives relatives of tsunami victims from Austria and Germany filed a lawsuit in New York against the government for failing to provide timely warning. “They won’t [now] have the information to sue us,” said K. Smith.

Earlier yesterday, he told an audience of about 1,000 people that he believed that many lives would have been spared if the Meteorological Department had listened to 10 percent of his suggestions concerning the possibility of a tsunami hitting the Andaman coast in southern Thailand.

By heeding his advice, he said the department would have had 75 minutes to act before the tsunami hit.

“I don’t know how to punish him,” said K. Smith, referring to the then Director-General of the Meteorological Department, Suparerk Thantiratanawong.

“Did he know about [the impending tsunami]? I can’t tell you the result, because 60 foreigners are eying to sue [the government].

“That’s why I can’t close the case, and I don’t know when I can close it.”

K. Smith acknowledged that the government might be in a Catch-22 situation. If it claimed that the department did not know the tsunami was heading toward Thailand, that could be grounds for a dereliction-of-duty lawsuit.

If it were found that officials did know the tsunami was on its way, but did not warn the public, that would also lead to a lawsuit, he said.

“Either way, they can sue us. And these farang love to sue,” he said.

The day after the tsunami struck, one of the four officers in charge of the Meteorological Department told The Nation that senior officials had toyed with the idea of issuing a warning the morning of the tsunami.

They decided not to because they feared that if there were no tsunami, the warning would have negative repercussions on the tourism industry, the official said.

K. Smith is no stranger to controversy. He was dismissed as a scaremonger and forced out of the post of Director-General of the Meteorological Department after he issued tsunami warnings in 1993 and 1998, following strong earthquakes at sea.

In neither case was Thailand affected by a tsunami, though a wave that followed the 1998 earthquake killed some 2,000 people in Papua New Guinea.

Phuket News
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