A testing week for Thailand

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CHIANG RAI, 13 July 2018: Thailand overcame an impossible challenge rescuing the Wild Boars Academy team, but safety on our seas demands a similar commitment.

Thailand hit the headlines, worldwide, in two contrasting incidents, this week. One prompted an outpouring of support and admiration and the other encouraged a blame game that focused on duty of care.

An international team of divers joined Thai Navy Seals to rescue 12 young soccer players and their coach, who were trapped 3 km inside the narrow chambers and channels of Chiang Rai province’s Tham Luang cave in far-north Thailand.

An incredible headline-grabbing mission rescued the Wild Boars Academy soccer team over a dramatic three days that inspired millions of TV viewers, worldwide.

Although, the mission cost the life of a courageous retired Thai Navy Seal, who died from a lack of oxygen as the rescue route was being established, it illustrated how humanity can rise above adversity and triumph. Thailand demonstrated consummate duty of care for the 12 boys and their coach.

In contrast, the tragic loss of life when two tourist boats capsized in heavy seas, off the coast of Phuket, cast a cloud over Thailand’s ability to deliver a safe environment for tourists visiting its seaside destinations.

The incident will have a devastating impact on Phuket. Tourists were exposed to danger through gross negligence that led to the death of 47 Chinese tourists.

Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports paid more than THB30 million in compensation to the families of those who drowned and to those injured and distressed.

While the Minister of Tourism and Sports’ prompt response deserves praise, there should be a thorough investigation into the registration of leisure boats and the ability of captains and crew to transport tourists safely to the island’s marine attractions.

Duty of care on the seas of Thailand, like on its highways, is sadly lacking. While the country’s aviation industry has stepped up to challenges and gained a clean bill of health from UN’s ICAO, Phuket’s fleet of leisure boats and tour buses, particularly those serving Chinese tourists, are often in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.  They are perceived as lacking compliance with safety regulations and there is evidence tour boats sailed when clearly they should have remained at anchor.

Phuket is plagued by numerous bus and boat accidents involving Chinese tourists. They often cause a loss of life and injuries. It’s easy to blame officials, tour companies or boat owners, but now there is enough evidence to show that popular seaside destinations urgently need to review safety regulations ensure full compliance by boat operators.

It’s not the first time that the Ministry of Tourism and Sports has faced this challenge.

The former Minister of Tourism and Sports did go on record in 2016 saying safety procedures and rules would be reviewed for tourist transport on land and sea. It was identified as a priority that would require teamwork and cooperation across various ministries, or so the former minister stated at the time.

What next? The Minister of Transport, provincial authorities and the Minister of Tourism should take a leaf out of the success story of Tham Luang. They need to demonstrate the same kind of teamwork and commitment that was demonstrated in a cave in far north Thailand, but this time to prevent accidents and make Thailand a safer place for travellers where duty of care is paramount.

A mission impossible at Tham Luang Cave became possible due to leadership, commitment and teamwork. It illustrates that with the right commitment and decisive leadership a better safety environment, a higher duty of care benchmark, is within our reach.

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