Quality of boat safety in Thailand questioned
By Tony Cheng
For most tourists visiting Thailand, a holiday isn’t complete until they’ve traveled to one of the many beautiful Islands along the coast.
But 26 Chinese tourists who planned to visit the paradise island of Phi Phi, off the coast of Phuket, on Sunday found a nightmare when they arrived.
Having anchored by the scenic Viking cave, their boat, King Poseidon 959, suddenly burst into flames when the Captain restarted the engines, leaving 16 injured, including the crew and several tourists.
Ma Cuihong, director of the Phuket Consular Office at the Consulate-General of China in Songkhla, told the local media that, “Five severely injured tourists are in stable condition without life threatening injuries. In addition, six slightly injured tourists are in the hospital for observation at Bangkok Hospital in Phuket. The other 16 tourists have already returned to their hotels to rest."
Injured tourists. /Photo via Chinanews

Injured tourists. /Photo via Chinanews

At the headquarters of Thailand’s Tourist Police in the capital Bangkok, the accident was the top of the agenda for their weekly nationwide teleconference, as the Deputy Commissioner, Major General Katcha Thartsart was briefed on the ongoing investigation.
Accidents that befall Chinese tourists are particularly problematic in Thailand, where visitors from China make up a quarter of the lucrative tourist trade.
But while Maj. Gen. Thartsart was quick to give reassurances that this was a one off accident which would not be repeated, he conceded that his officers are unable to take preventative action.
“We don’t have the power to check the boats, speedboats, or equipment like this… We have to ask for them (the operators) to do the right thing.”
That is disturbing, especially given Thailand’s poor safety record when it comes to maritime safety.
Injured tourists. /Photo via Chinanews

Injured tourists. /Photo via Chinanews

On average 20 people a year die in boat related accidents, many aboard the poorly maintained speedboats that ferry tourists between the Islands along the coast. They are often filled beyond capacity and manned by inexperienced and unlicensed crew members.
The agencies charged with monitoring safety and licensing tourist boats, such as the Maritime Police, are often poorly staffed with resources so limited that they’re not able to get enough fuel for their own boats.
Despite this, waterborne transport remains a fundamental necessity throughout Thailand.
The chaotic traffic along the Chao Phraya River that runs through central Bangkok is a good illustration, as tens of thousands of commuters and tourists avoid the jammed roads on ferries and river taxis with speeding longtail boats weaving past overcrowded passenger boats and heavily laden cargo barges.
The burning boat. /Xinhua Photo‍

The burning boat. /Xinhua Photo‍

But Chanapan Kaewchaiyawuth, secretary general of the Thai Chinese Tourism Association, thinks Chinese tourists shouldn’t be deterred by recent accidents.
“I think the authorities have done their job, but the number of tourists has doubled or tripled in recent years and they’re trying to improve safety but sometimes can’t keep up.”
He has suggested to the Ministry of Tourism that safety briefings are given to tourists before they depart on tours, and that visitors follow their own common sense, avoiding boats that are overcrowded and badly maintained.
And few visitors are likely to be deterred, when the reward at the end of their boat trip, is some of the most beautiful coastline in the world.