Authorities acting fast after disasters sap tourist confidence

Authorities acting fast after disasters sap tourist confidence

This sudden explosion and fire on a Phuket-Phi Phi boat on Jan 15 injured 14 Chinese tourists and spurred more efforts at addressing measures to prevent such accidents. (Bangkok Post file photo)

PHUKET: A spate of tourist speedboat accidents that have injured many foreign and Thai passengers has prompted officials to expedite stricter safety measures to allay the fears of prospective tourists who plan to visit popular marine attractions in Krabi and Phuket.

Officials of the two southern provinces tabled plans to make rescue boats and crews available for quick response around the clock in case accidents occur during a recent meeting aimed at restoring confidence among tourists, many of whom rely on speedboats for their trips to scenic islets.

A picture of a speedboat, named the King Poseidon 959, which exploded and was engulfed in flames, sending a tail of thick black smoke up the sky was splashed across the front pages of many websites and newspapers last week. Sixteen Thai and Chinese tourists were wounded during the incident in which they were enjoying an excursion from Phuket to Viking Cape in Krabi near Phi Phi Le islet on Jan 14.

Tourists’ confidence over speedboat services plummeted further when two vessels collided near Royal Phuket Marina in Phuket’s Muang district two days later, reportedly injuring five Italians and one Thai.

Authorities agreed at the recent meeting they must do better, both working to prevent the recurrence of similar accidents and, when they occur, improving their capacity to deal with them quickly and effectively.

Safety measures at piers and for speedboats, and everyone one board, must be tightened, Krabi governor ML Kitibodi Prawit said.

According to a list of action points tagged as “urgent” by Krabi officials, security cameras must be installed on every pier. Boat maintenance must be monitored to meet a set of agreed standards. Drivers and crews must be in good shape. All passenger information, including their identities and destinations, must also be gathered and kept in a database for quick reference in the wake of an accident.

The last measure will allow officials to quickly reach families of those who may be injured, and also reassure families whose relatives were not involved, assured Pracha Atsawathira, manager of Digital Economy Promotion Agency’s branch office in Phuket.

His office was asked to help design the database system and contribute ideas to modernise protocol for the local trips which are essential attracting tourists to the province.

So far, thousands of speedboats have been registered — 2,000 in Phuket and 500 in Krabi — and now meet safety requirements.

“If the boats are not ready for travel and deemed unsafe, they cannot leave piers,” said Krabi police chief Pol Maj Gen Bunthawi Toraksa, who also attended the meeting to discuss the accidents from the police perspective.

Investigations are still under way to find the causes of the explosion and the collision. Officials have been urged by the China National Tourism Administration to step up probe into the Jan 14 incident.

Pol Col Kritsana Pattanacharoen, deputy spokesman of the Royal Thai Police, said earlier that one crew member on the King Poseidon 595 had been charged with negligence leading to the injury of others.

However, Pol Col Kritsana did not elaborate. He only said police are compiling a report and considering pressing further charges against other members of the crew.

There were five Thai crew members on the speedboat on the day of accident.

Besides a need to check whether crews are fit for purpose, routes where their boats travel along must be also examined, ML Kitibodi added.

He said Krabi officials are planning to have patrol boats to make more frequent inspections of areas prone to accidents.