By Daren Jenner, Marine Safety Officer, International Surf Lifesaving Association
The Phuket governor’s plan to turn over what little funds are being provided for critical marine lifesaving services to the Or Bor Tors will only perpetuate the current deadly cycle of inexperienced, non-certified lifeguards, low salaries, fragmented service, and lapses in coverage.
All of these factors will in turn contribute to an increase in the already frighteningly high drowning rates in Phuket.
The solution lies in creating a new, unified professional lifeguard force for the entire Island, and the surrounding ocean waters. All over the world, lifeguards work best in teams and require a rapid source of backup to effectively prevent ocean drowning. Phuket is no exception. For the past seven years, the current fragmented lifeguard system has failed Phuket’s visitors and locals time and time again. Chinese, Russians and Thais are the most likely to drown here.
A recent audit of Phuket beach safety conducted by the International Surf Lifesaving Association produced a grade of “fail-unsafe” for 17 of the 18 beaches evaluated.
In addition, under-funded lifeguard contracts awarded for a few months or even a year at a time will never solve Phuket’s problem. Continuity and time are required to build the professional lifeguard force that Phuket needs to save lives. If the tender process is to work properly, contracts must last four to five years at a minimum to provide adequate time for lifeguards to upgrade their skills. In addition, tender bidding must provide a minimum professional standard that employed lifeguards must meet.
Daren passing on documents to Phuket’s Governor Noraphat Plodthong
Years, not weeks or months, are needed to properly plan and construct lifeguard headquarters and to execute other infrastructure improvements needed to operate an effective lifeguard force.
The International Surf Lifesaving Association has put forth a professional lifeguard improvement plan, which has been reviewed and approved not only by the ISLA, but 90 percent of the former lifeguards, who are experienced, trained and qualified. The governor has received a copy of this plan.
A local force of over 220 freshly trained and internationally certified lifeguards are ready to go to work immediately. Any further delays in getting certified ocean lifeguards back on the beaches could cost lives.
Drownings and deaths that have occurred over the past month will only worsen, and will play out again and again on social media and the international news, until adequate funding is provided for ocean lifeguards and marine safety, and an effective, unified force is launched.
There is no more time to wait. Without lifeguards, hundreds of lives could be lost to drowning in the waters surrounding Phuket, in the next six months. Emergency funding must be made available so the existing trained and certified force can start work as a single, unified, professional team, and avert a humanitarian drowning crisis.
Interview with Daren by Tim Newton at Kamala Beach
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