3 months on, Pattaya officials still talking tough, doing nothing to solve jet ski extortion scandal

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Nearly three months after promising a strict crackdown on scamming jet ski vendors, Pattaya officials are no closer to actually ending near-daily incidents of extortion and intimidation of tourists by beachfront criminal elements.

In two separate meetings July 26, top Banglamung, Pattaya and police officials again reviewed cases in which jet ski operators bilked tourists out of hundreds of thousands of baht weekly for non-existent damage to the water craft but again failed to initiate concrete steps to actually stop it.

At Pattaya City Hall, Deputy Mayor Ronakit Ekasingh pledged that the city, Banglamung District and marine police would set up a joint mobile task force to monitor jet ski vendors and mediate disputes, install signs publicizing the city service along the beach and again discuss with vendors registration of their vehicles. He also threatened to outright ban all jet skis from Pattaya and Jomtien Beach should those measures fail.

Representatives of jet ski businesses sit bored at the City Hall meeting, knowing that so far, they have nothing to fear as no one is doing anything but talking about their extortion scams. Representatives of jet ski businesses sit bored at the City Hall meeting, knowing that so far, they have nothing to fear as no one is doing anything but talking about their extortion scams.

Ronakit’s tough talk, however, simply repeats promises made March 11 after Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome made a surprise, plainclothes visit to Pattaya Beach, telling scamming vendors “their cards had been marked” and directed Ronakit to begin drafting new regulations at a meeting the following day.

That March session was a near repeat of last week’s meeting, with marine police, business owners and public officials calling for a commission to determine costs for jet ski damage and service disputes with other boat operators, registration of all jet ski vendors, and the opening of 24-hour “tourist service centers” where disputes can be settled.

In the two-and-a-half months since, none of those measures has been enacted and no dates were set last week for the latest proposals.

Even less progress was made at the second meeting July 26 between top officials from the Chonburi Provincial Police, Pattaya Tourist Police, Marine Police, Pattaya City Council and the city’s Marine Department.

While everyone attending agreed the scams are doing irreparable damage to the city’s reputation, Chonburi Provincial Police Superintendent Maj. Gen. Tanet Pinmuang-ngam and Tourist Police commander Lt. Col. Arun Promphan said there was basically nothing they could do because the Pattaya administration still has not established any laws or regulations to govern the operations of jet ski vendors.

Their conclusion echoed that of Banglamung District Chief Chaowalit Saeng-Uthai at last week’s city hall meeting and even Ronakit’s comments as far back as April 12. Chaowalit noted, however, that extortion is a criminal offense and he encourages victims to contact police in such cases.

However, even Itthiphol has said Pattaya’s police are part of the problem, with corrupt officers assisting scammers in extorting money from tourists and earning some of the profits. The mayor said in March he was working on plans to “keep police out of negotiations,” although he added that there were many honest officers who he believed he could work with.

At last week’s meeting, Tanet said police are unable to officially do anything without regulations governing operations of jet ski vendors. He said city codes should cover everything from operating hours to responsibility for damage to who would mediate disputes. He also echoed the call for establishment of customer-service centers at three points along Pattaya Beach and on Jomtien Beach.

“Police can only become involved after receiving a complaint a law has been violated,” Tanet said.

Until such regulations are enacted, incidents such as one that occurred July 24 – which prompted last week’s meeting – will continue to happen.

In that case, three Indian tourists rented a jet ski for 30 minutes. After returning it the jet ski operator claimed the trio had damaged the scooter, pointing to damage that either the Indians did not make or had been there for months.

The vendors demanded tens of thousands of baht in compensation and an argument ensued, becoming heated to the point of the vendors physically threatening the tourists. Eventually a police officer conveniently appeared who “assisted” the tourists in negotiating the damage down to 10,000 baht.

The scandal has become so widespread the Justice Ministry and Chonburi’s governor in April called the situation an “insult” to the image of the entire country and demanded swift action is needed to resolve a “serious problem.”

To date, however, the only thing that’s happened is more talk.

“While there are no laws allowing for jet ski businesses in Pattaya, the city has been lenient and allowed them to continue,” Ronakit said last week. “However, when these problems occur, the city must act decisively. They will not be allowed to further exploit tourists and, if they fail to comply with new regulations, they will be banned.”

“Because there are no laws governing jet skis, vendors should operate honestly and not create problems or extort tourists,” Chaowait pleaded to operators assembled at the city hall meeting. “If that occurs, the state cannot ignore it.”

Not ignoring the problem and actually doing something tangible to resolve it are two different matters, however. With officials repeating promises made three months ago, it remains unclear if any concrete moves to end the beachfront scams will ever materialize.