Governor Norraphat explained his plans, to Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat at the Phuket Yacht Control Centre at Chalong Pier yesterday afternoon (Aug 19).
The move to request the stunningly huge budget comes in the wake of the Phoenix tour boat disaster, which capsized and sank on July 5, killing 47 Chinese tourists.
Mr Weerasak and Ministry of Tourism and Sports (MoTS) Advisor Apichart Jeerapan were present in Phuket in person yesterday to be updated on the progress of the implementation of Phuket's maritime safety measure and Phuket Marine Safety Plan, and of aspects related to the disaster.
Present to report on their respective areas were Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong and Vice Admiral Somnuk Preampramot, Commander of the Royal Thai Navy Third Area Command, and Wiwat Chitchertwong, Acting Chief of the Phuket Marine Office.
Governor Norraphat reported that he had set up teams to oversee safety regulations at 24 piers in Phuket used by boats carrying tourists. Also, all 24 piers will be upgraded with CCTV cameras, publicity signs, and a computer system to be directly updated with each boat’s information and each boat’s travel itinerary, he added.
“In addition, I will set up a rapid mobile unit to randomly inspect boats and tourists’ safety,” he said.
“Next I will focus on the development of Chalong Pier. I will set up training sessions for officials to learn about the DEPA-designed database system. Then I will accelerate the upgrading of the pontoons and walkways to accommodate a large number of tourists from boats.
“We have set up nine projects, for which the budget is B144,034,000, to develop Chalong Pier for better security and safety to serve the public and tourists and to enhance our tourism image,” Gov Norraphat said, affirming a report by state news agency NNT on Saturday. (See story here.)
The request is to be made to the Cabinet at the mobile meetings for Southern Thailand to be held in Ranong and Chumphon today and tomorrow (Aug 20-21).
However, Governor Norraphat yesterday dropped the bombshell that the budget to be requested will be a staggering B508 million – a factor that the NNT failed to report.
“I have proposed to the Cabinet during the mobile meeting in Chumphon and Ranong provinces on August 20-21,” he said.
“I have asked for approval for a Marine Surveillance and Assistance Center at Chalong Bay with budget B508,110,000 to provide fast and effective surveillance, disaster prevention and mitigation, safety and security, as well as standard and quality of safety precaution.
“All of this is to provide assistance to tourists, fishing boats or other vessels in Phuket and nearby provinces,” Governor Norraphat explained.
Tourism Minister Weerasak gave his approval for the request.
“Phuket province is an essential tourism destination for tourist. Marine safety and security is worth the investment,” he said.
Minister Weerasak yesterday also confirmed the clampdown on information released to the media in the wake of the Phoenix disaster.
“We must be careful to present news about the progress of the cause of the accident as the cause of the accident is unclear,” Mr Weerasak said.
“So all sectors are cautious about providing information that may affect the image of the country. Therefore, the relevant government departments must report all issues as direct to the Minister of Tourism and Sports only,” he said.
“Meanwhile, the government is organising special ceremonial services to be held for the relatives of the tourists who died. The event will be held on August 22-23, 2018,” he added. (See event details here.)
Phuket Marine Office Acting Chief Mr Wiwat gave his report on the ongoing investigation into the disaster.
“A commission has been set up to investigate the cause of the incident,” Mr Wiwat said.
“The commission must find out the facts, especially regarding the boat ignoring the weather warning, the boat operator’s skill to control the ship and control the crowd of passengers on board. If the incident happened because of the physical aspects of the boat, we will find out.
“Also of concern is that when the passengers were scrambling to get out of the boat, they could not, causing loss of life,” he said.
“However, since this incident I have set up training courses for boat drivers and tour guides. All courses are designed to increase the knowledge and awareness of the safety of passengers and tourists,” Mr Wiwat added.
Chalong Police Chief Col Paksayot Thanongsak who is leading the police investigation into the disaster, reported, “The boat owner, the captain and related persons have been charged with negligence.”
Col Paksayot did not confirm whether any officials had been charged or even identified as under investigation for any role they might have had in allowing the boat to put to sea.
“For other parts of the investigation, it is necessary to recover the boat. We need to check the integrity of the boat or any defects the boat might have had. Only then can we present any possible causes for the accident,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Warataya Konglertwarakorn, Senior Specialist at the Phuket branch of the national insurance regulator the Office of Insurance Commission (OIC), yesterday reported, “Bangkok Insurance Company has paid compensation to relatives of 46 of the dead. Only one compensation remains to be paid due to the beneficiary’s account number. Officials are asking for a new account for that person now.”
Siriwalee Worlor, Chief the Phuket office of the Tourism Business and Guide Registration Office, reporting on the state-paid compensation, said, “On Aug 20, four more persons will receive compensation. For one person we have asked for a new account number. For the other 42 victims, compensation has been paid to their relations already.”