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Phuket: Red flags are flying

June 27, 2013

Lifeguards have closed major stretches of all the island’s 13 west coast beaches due to extremely dangerous rip tides, local news service Phuketwan reported yesterday.

Red flags are flying on beaches to warn tourists not to go into the sea. Some visitors ignore the warning  with fatal consequences.

According to Phuketwan, four people drowned in four days, last week, and a rescued Russian man remains in a coma at Phuket Vachira Hospital in Phuket City.

The beaches where fatalities have occurred are Patong, Laem Singh, Layan and Kata. Red flags and warnings have been posted at those beaches and at Nai Haan, Karon, Kamala, Surin and other popular spots along the west coast.

East coast beaches and islands are more sheltered and safe from rip tides. Rawai beach at the southern tip of Phuket is also calmer than west coast beaches that directly face the open sea.

During the southwest monsoon, seas are rough and all west coast beaches have treacherous rip tides and under currents that can drag even strong swimmers out to sea.

If caught in a rip tide, lifeguards advise swimmers to go with the current, which will eventually return the swimmer to another section of the beach. Most deaths result when swimmers fight the current and drown due to panic and  exhaustion.

Despite the red flags, some tourists believe they are strong swimmers. However, every year as many as 20 to 30 swimmers die in Phuket’s rip tides.

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The local news service, Phuketwan, reported that between Thursday and Sunday, last week, a Belgian, Russian, Indian and a 19-year-old Thai drowned at four different Phuket west coast beaches.

The onset of the monsoon season brings added danger – eight swimmers died in eight weeks between mid-May and mid-July last year.

Officials believe travel agents, media, hotels and tourist offices should warn visitors so they understand the risks during the southwest monsoon season.

It does not help when the travel media describes the weather patterns of May to October as a “green season.” It is a blatant ruse to obscure the fact that the island faces torrential thunderstorms, gusty winds and heavy seas until early November.

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