Thailand offers to help Indonesia as annual fires cause flight delays
THE PROLONGED haze is hitting Phuket’s tourism hard, with tourist operators on the island complaining about flight delays and holiday cancellations.
The problem stems from agricultural fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia.
Foreign Affairs Ministry deputy permanent secretary Vitavas Srivihok met with Indonesian Ambassador Lutfi Rauf yesterday to discuss the issue.
Vitavas said Lutfi said he was sorry and explained the Indonesian government was now taking harsh legal action against those behind the fires.
“During the meeting we told the ambassador that Thailand is ready to provide assistance,” he said.
Lutfi said the Indonesian government was trying its best to extinguish the fires.
“The Indonesian authorities are applying many measures to put out the fire as our first priority,” the ambassador said.
“We have been irrigating water to the burning peatland, making artificial rain and also water bombing the fire from above. More than 8,000 military personnel were called to the fire-extinguish operation.”
He said there were 184 fire cases and 223 individuals and companies are involved in them, with 78 suspects detained.
“We are working with international partners especially within the Asean framework to relieve the haze situation,” he said.
“We have already received some help from Malaysia and Singapore, but we need to make sure that the help from outside meets the needs on the field, otherwise the help will be useless.” He said Thailand offered help Indonesia and asked what help it needed.
The Indonesian government was very appreciate of the offer and he would pass it on to Jakarta.
Lutfi said Indonesian authorities were seeking more and bigger aircraft to carry out the water bombing. The aircraft should be able to carry more than 25 tons of water.
At least three flights from Phuket to Bangkok were delayed yesterday morning due to the thick haze that affected visibility at Phuket International Airport.
All the flights were scheduled to depart Phuket before 8.20am, said an airport officer who joined an emergency meeting chaired by the provincial governor. The affected carriers were Bangkok Airways, Thai AirAsia and Thai Airways International.
The haze also affected a Silk Air international flight and a Jet Star international flight, with both having to circle the airport two extra times before being allowed to land.
Bangkok Airways has advised its passengers to contact its call centre on 1771 to check the status of flights especially those flights departing the South of Thailand and travelling to the South.
At 8am yesterday, an air-quality check showed the amount of particulate matter up to 10 microns in size had reached 210 micrograms in the Phuket city municipal area. The safe limit is 120 micrograms.
Kannapat Wongtikied, who runs the Phuket Sunny Hostel in Muang district, said about 20 per cent of room reservations had been cancelled in the wake of the haze.
“Several guests here have also cancelled their one-day trip-tour package. My business income has been falling by about 60 per cent,” she said. She said some guests cut short their stay.
“One couple initially booked seven nights but they left for Myanmar after just two nights because of the haze,” Kannapat said.
Auraiwan Phuthong, who runs the Phong Phang restaurant in the same district, said she handed out masks to her employees and her customers to help them cope with the haze.
“The number of customers has significantly dwindled. My income has dropped by about 30 per cent already,” she said.
Phuket resident Phongpol Ratchapol said he wore a facial mask when outside, while locals plan to rally in front of the Phuket City Hall today and lodge a protest letter against the Indonesian government.
Suratin Lian-udom, a former mayor of Tambon Rassada Municipality, will reportedly lead the rally.