3 days before 7 tourists die in ferry sinking, Marine Department chief said marine accidents not a concern

Friday, 15 November 2013 From Issue Vol. XXI No. 46 By  Thanachot Anuwan

Just three days before seven tourists would die in a ferry sinking off Koh Larn, the head of the Thailand Marine Department told an international coast guard forum that sea disasters were not a great concern due to preventative measures already put in place.

Director-General Sornsak Saensombut told the 9th Head of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting at the Dusit Thani Hotel Oct. 30 that most foreigners weren’t worried about marine accidents, as they realized they could not be foreseen. In addition, Sornsak said, the Marine Department has been working continuously with Pattaya officials on accident prevention, including plans to lay buoys to mark transit lanes and other regulations.

Marine officials convene for the 9th Head of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting.Marine officials convene for the 9th Head of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting.

On Nov. 3, the emptiness of those assurances became evident as a severely overloaded passenger ferry stocked with only a fraction of the needed life vests and safety gear flooded, capsized and sank a half-kilometer off Koh Larn. Six Thai and foreign tourists died, dozens others were injured and the captain was arrested for being high on methamphetamines while behind the wheel.

The cruel irony of Sornsak’s remarks, unfortunately, was hardly rare. In the six days before two Chinese tourists were killed in an August speedboat accident near Bali Hai Pier, marine regulators and Pattaya city officials had met twice with boat operators to stress the need for safety.

In retrospect, the Oct. 30 meeting proved to be just another pulpit from which Thai officials attempted to put the country’s marine-safety protections on the same plane as international rivals, only to be proven substandard in short order.

In this case, Thai officials were trying to convince the Japanese Coast Guard, Nikppon Foundation, and Japan Association of Marine Safety of its bonafides. Sornsak said the session focused on environmental protection, large-scale disaster management, control and prevention of smuggling and piracy, general development, and assisting victims of disasters at sea.

He said the Marine Department planned to set up a centralized headquarters to assist seaborne victims and implement new safety laws. Promises of such have been made since April with no tangible results seen.

“Pattaya boat operators have cooperated very well, allowing regulation of marine safety to progress far,” Sornsak said, not knowing how hollow such words would sound by the end of the weekend. “In the future, technology will be adopted and, hopefully, a year from now, accidents at sea will decrease.”

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