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What it takes to stay safe while snorkelling in Phuket waters

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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What it takes to stay safe while snorkelling in Phuket waters | Thaiger

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The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) says that about 80 per cent of visitors to Phuket plunge into the Andaman Sea with snorkelling gear to explore Thailand’s treasures below the surface. At least eight of those tourists have died while snorkelling within the last 16 months.

The Phuket Gazette‘s Chutharat Plerin and Saran Mitrarat dive into the issue.

PHUKET: Supervision is essential to snorkelling safety, explains TAT Phuket Office Director Anoma Wongyai.

“It is a fun activity, but please make sure you are a capable swimmer, or under supervision of someone with water-rescue skills and first-aid certification,” she warned.

The presumption, however, that a tour agency offering snorkelling services will provide a guide with the necessary rescue skills could be a fatal one.

As was discovered when 73-year-old Mike Reynolds began to drown while out on a snorkelling trip to Koh Phi Phi with his daughters and grandson last month (story here).

“The tour operators on our boat didn’t know CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] and panicked whilst we were doing it,” said Australian Surf Life Saver Jason Gollan, who, along with his daughter, saved Mr Reynolds’ life (story here).

“Tour boat operators need to have oxygen available on the boat should this ever happen again. This could have made Mike’s condition far less critical than what it has become.”

FLOATING STANDARDS

Companies providing snorkelling tours are not required to meet the same safety regulations as scuba-diving operations, confirmed Sakorn Pukham of the Phuket Marine Office.

“Snorkelling tour boats must have three items of safety equipment on board: Thai Industrial Standard [TIS] certified life jackets, fire extinguishers and an emergency water pump that is in good condition,” Mr Sakorn said.

They are not required to carry medical-grade oxygen.

Despite the unique equipment needed and training necessary to snorkel safely, the Bureau of Tourism

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Business and Guide Registration Phuket office explained that no special documentation was required for agencies offering snorkelling tours.

“There are no requirements or laws concerning safety measures specifically for operators taking tourists out snorkelling.”

Many tour agencies were unwilling to go on the record and talk to the Gazette about what, if any, safety measures they had in place for their customers that went beyond the legal requirements for general tour agencies.

LIFE WEAR

Though familiar to many, the equipment used while snorkelling is foreign to others. With large numbers of mainland Chinese, Russians and many others snorkelling in Phuket waters, it isn’t a surprise that for some it is their first time in the sea with a mask, snorkel and fins.

The key to being comfortable in the water is having equipment that fits, explained PADI West Coast Regional Manager Andy Auer.

“Your mask should have a good seal around your face, and be comfortable. A comfortable snorkel is also important,” Mr Auer said.

“Be aware of the size of the snorkel, as the bigger it is the more dead air space it will have. Also, having a valve for easy clearing is important.”

Those who aren’t strong swimmers are asked to wear life jackets, explained the owner of Phuket Absolute Marine, Sathanan Chaipradit, whose boat Mr Reynolds was with at the time of the accident.

However, many of the so-called “life jackets” certified by the TIS are little more than buoyancy aids, explained another tour operator, who declined to be named.

“A real life jacket, not just a buoyancy aid, will float a person who is unconscious with their face out of water. This can prevent them from drowning,” he said.

“However, they are not used here in Thailand because they are expensive.

“A buoyancy aid will not save an unconscious person’s life.”

Other considerations for those preparing for a snorkelling trip are a form of protection from the sun and a long-sleeve rashguard to protect you from potential jellyfish stings, one dive supply shop owner said.

Mr Auer noted in a nutshell: “The more comfortable you are with the equipment, the more relaxed you will be during your snorkelling. As a result, you will see more and have more fun.”

TRAINING

Katie Severn, one of Mr Reynolds’ daughters on the boat the day of his accident, explained that their group was not trained on how to use the snorkelling gear.

“They gave us the spiel. If you need a life jacket, please wear one. This is your snorkel, goggles, put them on. They didn’t give instructions on how to breathe through it,” she said.

image

Aussie lifeguard Mr Gollan confirmed Mrs Severn’s recounting of the incident.

“This could have been what caused the problem with Mr Reynolds as it may have been faulty.”

The owner of the snorkelling company that declined to be named, confirmed that lack of training for snorkellers is typical in the region.

“Most snorkeling companies put the people from the back of the boat straight into deep water without any training,” he said. “They just put them into the water and off they go.”

“They give them a life jacket, but sometimes they do not fit the life jacket properly.”

Unlike many tour agencies offering day trips to the region’s spectacular sites in Similans National Park and Phang Nga Bay, the operator explained that his company did not conduct mass trips, but instead catered to smaller groups.

“We care about the customers, not about the money so much. We make sure that customers are 100 per cent safe,” he said.

“I cannot tell you exactly how long it takes to train our customers. It depends on the customer’s ability. If we have a good swimmer from Australia, then it can be done in a few minutes. If we have somebody who is not familiar with the water, it might take 20 minutes.

“A lot of cultures do not have water training at all. Therefore, before we take a booking, we need to know who we are booking and their abilities in the water so that we adjust our supervision appropriately.”

The safest way to snorkel is under the supervision of your guide, he said.

“A safety guide should be with the customer at all times. However, if the tour is in very shallow water, one guide can look after many, many people.”

WHY DO PEOPLE DIE?

The number one reason people die when they are snorkelling is lack of proper oversight, said the snorkelling tour operator.

“From my 30 years of experience in the watersports business: 16 years in Australia and 14 years in Phuket, it is because nobody is watching them. It is due to a lack of care as well as a lack of knowledge and training of tour guides,” he said.

“Many guides don’t have the necessary skills and are sometimes distracted doing other things instead of keeping an eye on their customers.”

Tour guides need to be strong swimmers, have first aid experience and know how to make a rescue in water. They must especially know what to do when someone is having difficulty breathing, he said.

Snorkelling is not the problem; it is not dangerous, the operator sa

— Chutharat Plerin

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Tourism

Phuket’s July Sandbox no-quarantine model “needs a major revamp”

Tim Newton

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Phuket’s July Sandbox no-quarantine model “needs a major revamp” | Thaiger
PHOTO: The monsoon waves are starting to hit Phuket's west coast

Thailand’s Sports and Tourism minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn is acknowledging that Phuket’s ‘Sandbox’ model for a no-quarantine re-opening in July will need “a major revamp”. As the Songkran travel bubble bursts and the monsoon season waves start to roll onto the island’s west coast beaches, Phuket’s scheduled July re-boot suddenly seems a long way off.

Minister Phiphat says he plans to meet with “all related agencies” this week. Apart from the latest national re-surge in new infections, Phuket has been unable to get its hands on sufficient vaccines to meed its deadline of 70% of the island vaccinated by July 1. Thailand’s limited supplies of the vaccine – including some 930,000 doses designated for Phuket – are being rerouted to other provinces as the government prioritises the limited supply.

“We are all concerned about the reopening timeline,” he was quoted in Bangkok Post.

But the Minister did acknowledge that, if the 70% vaccination level couldn’t be met, they may consider opening some areas of the island. Exactly how that would work hasn’t been revealed at this stage.

The minister also brought up the ongoing travel bubble negotiations and says he hadn’t heard back from some of the candidates with their reaction to the current outbreak.

Flights in and out of Phuket Airport’s international terminal have been extremely patchy and the flights from feeder tourist markets will need to co-operate with any re-opening plans.

Phuket, whilst suffering a rise in new infections, hasn’t been hit as hard as some of the other popular holiday provinces, like Chiang Mai, Chon Buri (Pattaya) and Prachuap Khiri Khan (Hua Hin).

This year’s Songkran was going to be a major stepping stone for the island’s recovery and many hotels, some who had opened especially to cater for Songkran holiday traffic, noted a lot of cancellations just prior to the break.

But some island hotels have still reported high occupancy rates over the past week. One Manager, who did not want his name published, said that their hotel was almost full with Thai patrons, most who had pre-paid for their flights and accommodation and decided to go ahead anyway.

Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, the president of the Phuket Tourist Association, says that they are opposed to any lockdown as it would cripple the island, with its tourist businesses already suffering greatly. He stated that 15% of people cancelled their Songkran bookings, while 30% had postponed their trips.

The Sports and Tourism Ministers is still in quarantine after having close contact with Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, who was diagnosed with Covid-19 2 weeks ago.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Phuket begs Kolour attendees to come for Covid-19 testing

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Phuket begs Kolour attendees to come for Covid-19 testing | Thaiger
FILE PHOTO: Kolour in the park was more pleasant in 2018 before Covid-19.

Health officials in Phuket put out a public statement this week compelling all foreigners who attended clubs and Kolour events to report for Covid-19 testing. As many might expect, the response has been lacklustre at best. Spreading the message around the foreigner and expat community in Phuket, the message is aimed at the multitudes of people, mostly foreign who attended Kolour and related events that turned into a Covid-19 superspreader event. Many foreigners have not come forward, much to health officials chagrin.

Online and on social media, foreigners and Thais shed light on why this urgent public health request is going largely unheeded. Foreigners fear the repercussions of coming forward, especially since Thailand is not allowing staying home or elsewhere in isolation if someone tests positive for Covid-19. Quarantine is mandatory, and with infection numbers exploding across the country, many fear the less-than-posh comforts of being quarantined in an emergency field hospital.

Cost is the other factor that likely is preventing foreigners from turning themselves in to be tested for Covid-19. While Phuket health officials may test people for free, anyone found infected with Covid-19 will be financially responsible for all the costs of their treatment and quarantine. Foreigners with limited financial resources, especially after a year of holing up in Thailand to ride out the Coronavirus, may resist reporting to authorities when they cannot afford the mandatory quarantine and medical treatment.

Perhaps recognizing this hesitation, the message includes a plea for all attendees to self-quarantine and self-monitor for any symptoms over the next week, even if they fail to report or test negative. The note also reminds everyone to wear masks in public at all times. The statement to the public also instructed anyone who attended any of the Covid-19 spreading nightlife events to report to the Acute Respiratory Infection Clinic area of Vachira General Hospital to receive a Covid-19 swab test.

SOURCE: The Pattaya News

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions

Tim Newton

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Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions | Thaiger

Three of Thailand’s biggest expat areas are seeing sharp rises in new infections, partly from pre-Songkran traffic. The Songkran holidays, now officially over (but will see many people taking today off and making a weekend Songkran extension), and the government says they are expecting to see a rise in the cases numbers reported in the popular holiday locations.

Chon Buri Public Health office says they now have a total of 910 infections since April 1. They have 103 new cases in the past 24 hours. Most new cases are in Bang Lamung district which includes Pattaya City with 47, Siracha with 12) & Chon buri City with 8.

Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions | News by Thaiger

Meanwhile Phuket has a total of 142 infections recorded on the island with the Governor still insisting there will be no need for a lockdown. Here’s a breakdown of the areas and the numbers of recorded infections so far (below).

Governor Narong announced that the Phuket Infectious Disease Control Committee won’t be implementing an official lockdown, but will “strictly raise the intensity of public health measures to counter the spread of Covid-19″.

“Everyone should wear a face mask, maintain social distancing, wash their hands frequently and install the Mor Chana app (available for free from App Store and Google Play Store).”

A meeting of the CCSA, chaired by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha is expected to upgrade restrictions in red zone areas around the country, which includes Phuket and Pattaya. Read more about the latest red and orange zones HERE.

Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions | News by Thaiger

For Hua Hin expats, there’s been 100 new Covid-19 infections announced in Prachuap Khiri Khan in the past 24 hours, 75 cases from Hua Hin. This takes the total in the province since April 1 to 625. Hua Hin accounts for nearly 90% of the district’s total cases.

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