2 years later, Pattaya again tells jet ski vendors to get insured

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More than two years after pledging that Pattaya jet ski operators would be required to carry insurance in order to end the rampant extortion and intimidation of tourists, city officials are promising the plan actually will become reality by month’s end.

At a Sept. 17, 2013 “emergency” meeting called to resolve the jet ski problem, Chonburi Gov. Khomsan Ekachai said Thaisri Insurance Plc had been signed up to provide mandatory insurance coverage for 452 jet skis operating in Pattaya, Jomtien Beach and Koh Larn.

Twenty-five months went by before it was mentioned again.

Jet ski operators from local beaches that attended the meeting look rather bored at the prospect of more regulation.Jet ski operators from local beaches that attended the meeting look rather bored at the prospect of more regulation.

On Oct. 12 this year, Boonchai Tansamai, an officer with the Ministry of Tourism and Sports’ Chonburi office, again stood before a group of jet ski hawkers at Pattaya City Hall and again offered up Thaisri Insurance policies. But this time he set an Oct. 31 deadline for the city’s now 401 vendors to get covered.

Pushed by Thailand’s military government, local officials seem to be showing a bit more urgency to solve the jet ski issue than they have at the many “emergency” meetings over the past six years. Part of that is because the Indian government hinted to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs that if something weren’t done, the entire Indian nation might boycott Pattaya because so many of its citizens have been targeted by the beachfront extortionists.

The scam follows a predictable path: A tourist, usually one from a non-western country, rents a jet ski and returns it only to be told that it was damaged by the rider. The tourist is surrounded by menacing-looking beachfront thugs and tens of thousands – or even hundreds of thousands – of baht are demanded with the implied threat of violence repercussions if the sums aren’t paid.

In some cases, a foreign “mediator” from the same country is brought in to work out a settlement or, in some cases, a Pattaya police officer. It’s widely believed the “helper” gets a kickback on any cash extracted from the victim.

Insurance, officials say, will remove the incentive for scamming tourists. Boonchai said the coverage must not only cover damage to the watercraft, but liability in case of a genuine accident in which the customer is injured or killed.

He also reiterated that those unwitting victims are indeed customers. To reinforce the point that the gangs operating on area beaches actually are part of a service industry, all the vendors will be forced to reregister their vehicles as “watercraft for rent”, just as speedboats are. They must also obtain proper business licenses.

Vendors will be required to submit to the Marine Department copies of their identification card, boat-inspection certification, and insurance policy.

Boonchai said any unregistered and uninsured vendor will not be allowed to operate. And anyone who has registered and is caught engaging in future scams will have their license revoked.

Enforcement, of course, has always been the problem and Boonchai offered no details on how that was going to change.