The Phuket provincial government is playing a deadly game that will cost tourists and locals their lives and their livelihoods.
The governor’s plan to turn over what little funds are being provided for critical marine lifesaving services to the Or Bor Tors will only perpetuate the current deadly cycle of inexperienced, non-certified lifeguards, low salaries, fragmented service and lapses in coverage. All of these will contribute to an increase in the already frighteningly high drowning rate in Phuket.
The solution lies in creating a new, unified professional lifeguard force for all of Phuket. All over the world, lifeguards work best in teams and require a rapid source of backup to prevent drowning. Phuket is no exception. For the past seven years, the current fragmented lifeguard system has failed Phuket’s visitors and locals time and time again. Chinese, Russians and Thais are the most likely to drown here.
A recent audit of Phuket beach safety conducted by the International Surf Lifesaving Association produced a grade of “fail – unsafe” for 17 of the 18 beaches evaluated.
In addition, under-funded lifeguard contracts awarded for a few months or even a year at a time will never solve this problem. Continuity and time are required to build the professional lifeguard force that Phuket needs. If the tender process is to work on the island, contracts must last four to five years at a minimum to provide adequate time for lifeguards to upgrade their skills. Years are also needed to properly plan and construct lifeguard headquarters and other infrastructure needed to operate an effective lifeguard force.
The International Surf Lifesaving Association has put forth a professional lifeguard improvement plan, which has been reviewed and approved not only by the ISLA, but 95 per cent of the former lifeguards, who are experienced, trained and qualified. I personally handed this plan to the governor in a meeting on May 14 at his residence.
The local force of over 220 freshly trained and internationally certified lifeguards are ready to go to work immediately. Any further delays by Phuket authorities in getting these lifeguards back to work will cost lives. The horrifying scenes of drowning and death we have been seeing over the past few months will only worsen, and will play out again and again on social media and the international news, until adequate funding is provided for ocean lifeguards.
There is no more time to wait. Without lifeguards, hundreds of lives will be lost to drowning in the waters surrounding Phuket in the next six months. Emergency funding must be made available immediately so the existing trained and certified force can start work as one team and avert a humanitarian crisis.
International Marine Safety Officer, Thailand Section Chief, ISLA