The southwest monsoon has yet to truly kick in, and with blue skies overhead on intermittent days from now through October luring unsuspecting tourists into the sea during the vacation they have long waited for, and saved for, they will not miss out on going for a swim while on their holiday in Phuket. They will not know about the flash rips and strong currents that have claimed the lives of swimmers before them.
The tumbling of Phuket’s once-centralised system in late 2017 left lifeguard protection at our beaches in tatters. The previous system in place for decades hired one contractor to ensure that trained, experienced lifeguards were guarding our shores. That meant just one organisation to hold responsible for providing the service.
We do not have that anymore. We do not even have one organisation to keep track of how many people have been rescued from the waves. A cynic might say that factor was intentional.
Instead, we have each local administration scrapping to find what lifeguards it can for the beaches in its own area.
Some areas have fared better than others, notably Patong and Nai Harn, where the local councils to their credit stepped in as quickly as they could to hire the same qualified, trained lifeguards that had already patrolled those beaches for years.
The rest did not do so well. The first thing that many local administrations – especially those along central and northern west coast beaches – cried out for was funding to even provide suitable equipment for whoever they could find to work as lifeguards.
On that point, many of the people hired were not just not qualified to serve as lifeguards. They lacked the basic skills to keep themselves safe in the surging surf. To little surprise, some of them even refused to go into the water to provide assistance to swimmers in distress knowing full well they would only be placing their own lives in danger.
It was that bad, and it’s no secret that the hiring of one company is under investigation for alleged corruption in that the company hired personnel not qualified to work as surf life savers.
We pray this year we do a little better, but still beg officials to return to having one agency to oversee, check qualifications for and to coordinate lifeguard resources deployed at our beaches.
We also call on everyone – and especially hotels – to warn visitors both Thai and foreign of the dangers that lurk in the surf during the coming months.