Transport Ministry declares Chonburi coast “safety zone”


Deputy Transport Minister tells local officials to increase safety in the area

The Transport Ministry has declared the entire Chonburi coastline a “safety zone” hoping to prod local municipal and Marine Department officials into working harder to stem the tide of deadly boat accidents.

Deputy Transport Minister Phong Chiwanan met with coastal and city authorities from Pattaya, Sattahip, Sriracha and Koh Sichang at the Discovery Beach Hotel Sept. 23 on plans for “cooperation to maintain water safety.”

Despite its grandiose name, the “marine safety zone” offers no new protections or regulations for ocean-going travelers.

Deputy Transport Minister Phong Chiwanan meets with coastal and city authorities to promote plans for “cooperation to maintain water safety.”Deputy Transport Minister Phong Chiwanan meets with coastal and city authorities to promote plans for “cooperation to maintain water safety.”

The laws are already on the books. They simply aren’t being enforced. At the public meeting, the minister urged local authorities to do their jobs more prudently and check boat seaworthiness, the availability of safety gear, and increase punishments for violations.

As always, of course, actual enforcement of the rules will be the responsibility of the government, district chiefs, mayors and marine police. And that, Phong implied, has been the problem.

A long-running issue, safety issues have seen a resurgence in recent months with two major and several minor boating-related accidents that have cost the lives of three tourists and injured – some critically – dozens more.

On Aug. 28, two Chinese tourists died and eight were injured when their speedboat crashed into an anchored longtail boat off Bali Hai Pier. The boat driver, now arrested, steered his twin-engine craft too close to the empty glass-bottom boat, snagging its anchor line, causing it to smash into the longtail and eject half the passengers.

A Polish woman was killed by a speedboat propeller in January in Jomtien Beach and a Thai taxi driver swimming in Najomtien had his throat cut by a boat prop in May. And in April, 18 South Korean tourists and two guides were hurt in a speedboat collision off Koh Larn. One victim had to have part of his leg amputated.

Since April, local officials have held numerous press conferences to announce new marine-protection centers and regulations, but little has come of it. Phong’s appearance in Pattaya seems aimed at spurring some actual results, as the parade of dead and maimed tourists is taking a toll of Thailand’s tourism industry.

Phong blamed accidents on two main causes: drivers and seaworthiness. With nearly every accident in recent years, officials have found that captains have driven recklessly, been speeding, sped through high-risk areas and overcrowded their vessels. As for seaworthiness, unlicensed boats or vessels in bad repair have too often been involved in accidents.

Marine officials, Phong said, are not doing enough to catch these violations before they cause accidents.

Marine Department officials pointed fingers at Chonburi’s governors of Pattaya, Sattahip, Banglamung, Koh Sichang and Sriracha, saying they’ve been given powers to inspect boats as well. Under the new plan, Marine Department officers will tutor local law enforcement on proper inspection routines.

Sornsak Saensombut, Marine Department director-general, said training will cover general regulations, supervising, maintaining and controlling waterborne traffic; integrating public- and private-sector efforts; creating awareness of safety issues; and reforming laws to be consistent with development.