Business leaders blast Pattaya officials for neglecting marine safety

Friday, 15 November 2013 From Issue Vol. XXI No. 46 By  Phasakorn Channgam

The president of the Pattaya Business and Tourism Association (PBTA) blasted Pattaya and police officials for failing to enforce marine-safety standards, leading to a “chronic and tiresome” string of boat accidents that have damaged the city’s tourism industry.

“Every time an accident like this takes place a meeting is held to resolve the issues that led to it. But the agreement that results is just writing, since regulators and officials continue to neglect marine operations and not take the issue seriously,” Sinchai Wattanasartsathorn told Chonburi Governor Khomsan Ekachai, Pattaya Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome, city council members, Banglamung District Chief Sakchai Taengho and city Marine Department officials at a tense three-hour meeting at city hall Nov. 4.

Sinchai Wattanasartsathorn, president of the PBTASinchai Wattanasartsathorn, president of the PBTA

“It is time for the government to take this matter seriously by implementing and enforcing laws on operators,” Sinchai said. “The blame cannot be laid just on boat operators because the officers directly responsible neglected their duties and did not exert serious control to inspect and regulate. The city has sat idle.”

Sinchai called this year’s string of accidents - which have killed 11 tourists and injured dozens more - “chronic and tiresome” and extremely damaging to tourism.

“The number of tourists who have met with accidents confirms the lack of safety measures,” Sinchai said. “If Pattaya continues to ignore these measures and allows more accidents to take place, I can say with absolute certainty that even the investment of tens of millions of baht in promotion and support of tourism won’t inspire or attract tourists to vacation in Pattaya again.”

Four foreign and three Thai tourists died in the Nov. 3 sinking of a Koh Larn Travel ferry about a half-kilometer off Nuan Beach. The captain of the boat admitted to using methamphetamines while behind the wheel, but the deaths and injuries largely occurred because the boat was carrying more than 30 percent more people than allowed and the boat lacked a sufficient number of life vests.

No Pattaya marine officials checked the boat or its captain before the ill-fated departure.

Sinchai’s scolding of politicians and bureaucrats to their faces was a shocking departure from the usual public comments at Pattaya City Hall meetings, which generally mix large dollops of flattery with ambiguous suggestions about the causes of problems and their solutions. It signaled that the city’s business leaders are fed up with public officials’ repeatedly broken promises to enforce marine-safety laws already on the books, enact agreed-upon reforms and open command centers “under construction” for months.

Other tourism industry association leaders at the meeting weren’t as brave. Bundarik Kusolvitya, president of Thai Hotels Association - Eastern Region, refused to criticize public officials outright, even suggesting the public “needs to support” their leaders to do what’s right.

She pointed blame solidly at boat operators who should be dealt with under both criminal and civil laws “because these accidents were the result of carelessness and lack of safety standards.”

She did admit, however, that the safety problems were “controllable,” but “there is a lack of serious action by responsible agencies.”

Bundarik said the hotels association plans to push for all parties involved to cooperate, urging public officials to be stricter in revoking the licenses of operators not meeting safety standards. Meanwhile, she said, her group would talk more with foreign embassies to increase confidence in tourist safety in Pattaya.

Only time will tell if something good comes out of this tragedy, or whether the above is just more smoke hiding no action.

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