The problems with Phuket’s lifeguarding, in plain sight

PHOTO: Patong Surf Lifesaving Club

A personal view from a veteran ocean lifeguard

After viewing the news and photos today of yet another body retrieval from Phuket’s ocean waters, this latest is unfortunately one in a long-line of such grisly episodes, for as many years as I can remember.

And as Kee Lighting and Engineering Company, apparently the contract provider for lifeguards in Patong (and other beaches? who knows? there is no transparency) place their logo on these photos and videos, and then makes them public, they are unaware they are documenting their own ineptitude to the greater lifesaving community.

As hard as it is to do, it’s the responsibility of those in my position to review available photos and videos, mainly in an attempt to understand exactly what occurred.

The unwanted byproduct is detectable to those properly trained and seasoned in professional lifesaving.

What stands out in these photos is not what they contain, but what is not seen. There are no swimmers actually in the water looking for the victim. These waters are plenty calm, and any properly trained team would have swimmers in the water looking.

I have swum these, and most of Phuket’s west coast waters over the years, just to see what marine life and topography could be observed from the water. What also stands out, is that no expense seems to be spared after the fact to find the body, so that families and friends of the loved one can “find peace”.

How much more peaceful would these people feel, if their loved one had actually been rescued by lifeguards instead, and never died in the first place?

Swimmers in the water (conditions permitting), as soon as possible after a missing person report is received, are the accepted minimum global standard. The absolute and ongoing unwillingness of the authorities to acknowledge the true scope of the lifeguard problem in Phuket, let alone address it, is beyond any definition of decency in a civilised society.

The harm to Phuket’s tourism from this and many other recent events is real and ongoing. Pretending the problem doesn’t exist is sure to make an already dire situation, even worse.

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