Phuket Boat Tragedy

This story didn’t get much attention in the international media:

Divers are searching the hull of a sunken boat off the coast of southern Thailand for more than 50 passengers who are missing after a violent storm Thursday afternoon.

The Phoenix PC diving boat ran into trouble off the coast of the resort island of Phuket when a storm whipped up waves as high as five meters (16 feet), crashing them against the vessel and causing it to keel over.

There were believed to 105 passengers on board the capsized vessel, including 93 tourists, one guide and 11 crew members. Many were thought to be Chinese tourists vacationing at the Thai resort.

I was sat on my balcony watching the rain come down – a nice thing to do – during that storm, but I didn’t realise how bad it was. My friend who lives across the bay said huge waves were crashing into the beach, bigger than he’d seen in a long time. It didn’t last long, more a squall than a storm, but those can be pretty ferocious.

Tourist boats are a common sight around here, as there is much to see and do in the waters near Phuket. You have Phi Phi island where The Beach was filmed, as well as Khao Phing Kan island where The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed. You also have  a lot of diving spots and, close to the beaches, paragliding boats. The problem is, as with everything in Thailand, you wonder how well regulated this all is. Every so often you hear of one boat colliding with another, and if you look at the guys driving them you’d be a brave man to bet they had all the necessary training for when things go wrong, even if they are skilled at manoeuvring the boat.

One would think it was the boat captain’s responsibility to check the weather and head for shelter if a storm was coming, but in Thailand they are likely under extreme pressure from the boat owners, and the tour operators who’ve collected money from the passengers, to complete the trip. I expect where Chinese tourists are concerned (and Chinese tour operators) this pressure increases considerably: if it were 50 Australians or Brits who drowned in the Andaman Sea, severe questions would be being asked in Bangkok. Somebody will be blamed for this – probably the captains – but you can be sure nobody further up the tree will be prosecuted, even if their instructions directly led to the boats being in harm’s way. This is how things work in Thailand.

It’s awfully sad for the tourists who’ve lost their lives and their families, and you really need to take extra care when holidaying in the developing world. As we’ve seen, your life doesn’t mean as much out here.

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4 thoughts on “Phuket Boat Tragedy

  1. Messing around in boats is one of the most satisfying things a human can do.

    Being on a small boat in poor weather and awful sea conditions is one of the worst experiences one can ever have.

    Even with a “civilised country’s” weather forecasting ability, one can find oneself an uncomfortable distance from a harbour or calm bay when things turn to custard. That assumes that one is paying attention to the weather forecast too.

    At which point, you envy to an unimaginable degree everyone who is tucked up in bed in those buildings whose lights you can only barely make out in the distance, (assuming you are fortunately enough to be only a few miles offshore).

    I’m thinking of a particular evening in August 2010 about exactly halfway across the gap between the “ball” and the “heel” of the foot of Italy at about 2am……

  2. The reason why doing touristy stuff in the developing world is so cheap is that they don’t have mountains of paperwork and regulations and the third assistant deck scrubber doesn’t have to have 2 years of professional training and certification from the state licensing board. If you get a splinter in your foot from the roughly scrubbed deck you can’t sue them for ten gazillion aided by armies of ambulance-chasing lawyers. In short you pays your money and you takes your chances.

  3. @Bill

    How’s thing on deck these day, still on anchor watch or have you passed the heads much or are you still slumming it in Botany?

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