Lifesavers call for a lifeline

PHUKET, 14 July 2019: Phuket’s lifeguards have made an impassioned plea for the Thai government to throw a financial life line to save its endeavours that annually rescue hundreds of tourist floundering in Phuket seas.

As southwest monsoon season hits the Andaman Sea coast Phuket’s idyllic beaches hide treacherous riptide and currents that have caused a rise in drowning incidents.  

The latest appeal for support comes after earlier requests dating back to 2016 appear to have been ignored by authorities.

Beachgoers bathe in heavy surf during monsoon season at Kata Beach, Phuket, Thailand. Over forty people drowned in the ocean waters around Phuket in 2013. Photo: Dr Robert Brander, PhD

Once again, the International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA) is backing the latest appeal to Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on behalf of Phuket’s lifeguards.

The appeal presented by experienced local lifeguards to the PM has a simple message: “Please rescue us. We are in danger of drowning ourselves. Our teams may not survive.”

Phuket’s surf lifesavers have watched financial support from the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation slowly erode, while investigations into the awarding of lifeguard contracts threaten to leave Phuket’s beaches without lifeguard protection once again.

ISLA also forwarded details of its email appeal to the government to fund a project to bring back the lifeguards to various national newspapers and TTR Weekly this week.

A leading contributor to Phuket’s economy, tourism is plagued by marine accidents. ISLA argues that lifeguards patrolling its popular beaches would significantly enhance the safety of the estimated 9 million tourists who visit the island annually.

The island authorities collect a tax that was created to fund projects to improve tourism-linked facilities, provide services to enhance safety for visitors and also support efforts to restore the environment. There are suggestions it could be used to provide beaches with top-rated lifeguard services.

In response to an earlier appeal made by ISLA on behalf of the island’s lifeguards the Prime Minister assigned deputy PM Thanasak Patimapragorn to visit Patong Bay to assess the ongoing lifeguard crisis.

At the end of that meeting, he assured lifeguards assistance was on the way.

“Make a list of what you need and send it to me,” he is reported to have told ISLA back in 2018.

In response, ISLA presented a funding and operational plan that would address Phuket’s drowning problem head-on.

According to ISLA, it included internationally recognised training, which ISLA provides to 24 countries around the world for free, along with equipment, infrastructural, and procedural improvements.

ISLA’s representative in Phuket notes the goals discussed in earlier meetings remain the same.

“They are to assist local lifeguards who are trained and ready to work, to create a unified, professional lifeguard force for the Island. Only then will the drowning and jet-ski accidents decline. Only then, will Phuket’s internationally infamous broken marine safety system begin to improve.”

“Phuket’s international water safety reputation is squarely on the line, and the cost of continued accidents and negative media exposure will remain very high,” ISLA stated.