ISLA says Phuket faces lifeguard crisis


BANGKOK, 10 April 2018: The US-based International Surf Lifesaving Association has flagged serious concerns over Phuket’s lifesaving capabilities at its west coast beaches.

ISLA Thailand coordinator, Daren Jenner, confirmed that the association’s board or directors, led by Dr Justin Sempsrott, a medical expert on drowning, sent a formal resolution to the US Embassy Bangkok’s political section, earlier this month, requesting that a travel advisory be issued.

The controversy over the lack of lifeguards at Phuket beaches reached a high, earlier this month, when Phuket News reported volunteer lifeguards had been ordered off the beaches to make way for company contracted guards to provide the service.

But the move left beaches unattended due to an alleged failure to assign enough qualified lifeguards to patrol all of the west coast beaches. The blame game focused on the contracted company hired by the Provincial Administration Organisation.

Jenner told TTR Weekly that it was vital to have a year-round lifeguard service at all of Phuket’s beaches.

Deaths by drowning occur in Phuket year-round not just during the heavy monsoon season and even involving tourists who are snorkelling close to shore, he pointed out.

“Lifeguards are 365 days a year necessity in Phuket,” he warned.

Commenting on the Phuket News report that focused on an alleged failure to provide adequate lifeguard services, Jenner said “ISLA has received messages from surfers as far north as Khao Lak, with detailed descriptions of multiple rescues being performed by volunteers.”

Contrary to popular opinion, the risks are high year-round and not just during the height of the monsoon season, May to September, when heavy seas pound the west coast beaches.

“We are only recently discovering that dangerous rip currents can and do form in Phuket’s waters, even in very small surf. These can be some of the most dangerous conditions for swimmers, as the water appears calm and to the untrained eye, looks safe to enter.”

If Phuket is to avoid a mention in an US travel advisory it has to invest heavily in providing a proficient reliable lifeguard service.

ISLA, a US-based global association that conducts volunteer lifesaving endeavours and training courses worldwide, identified specific recommendations.

It has called for an increase in the current lifeguard force in Phuket to 220 lifeguards. Lifeguards must be stationed on beaches where previously there no patrols. In addition, the association called for lifeguards to be trained so they complied with ISLA’s global standards.

“Unless and until Phuket’s lifeguard service is up-staffed and up-skilled to ISLA standards, ISLA will continue to press forward for a Level 3 Travel Advisory,” Jenner said.

“For far too long, US and global visitors to Phuket have been under-protected by ocean lifeguards. while visiting Phuket’s beaches.

“ISLA will not stand idly by while beach visitors drown needlessly, when the vast majority of these drownings could be prevented by a comprehensive lifeguard force,” he concluded.

Last November, ISLA trained  60 local volunteers lifeguards who were assigned to daytime watches at Phuket’s popular beaches.

But according to Phuket News they were later ordered off the beaches by army officials at the direction of the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation.

Commenting on that decision, Jenner said: “Such an act is morally outrageous, and has already led to unnecessary drownings. The PPAO must immediately reverse this decision, the Southwest monsoon is nearly upon us.

“Failure to do so could result in the highest number of drownings Phuket has ever seen.”

Links to Phuket News reports: