The tragic news yesterday of the speedboat capsizing brings back bad memories of my own boat trips. I think just about every time I have been on a boat in Thailand I have always worried about overcrowding and the seemingly lack of life-jackets. There are of course laws in Thailand which limits the number of people. However, as many people who live here know, not many laws are strictly enforced. The boat operators obviously want to load onto the boat as many paying passengers as they can. It makes economic sense to them. It also costs money to buy the life vests. In this case, the boat trip was only a half an hour in calm seas. How many of those passengers would have put on a life jacket if offered? But that is not the point. In the case of a boat capsizing or sinking is there anything that you can hang on to while you wait for a rescue ship? Most likely the answer is “no”.
A few weekends ago, I took some visiting friends to the temple on the other side of the river. The cross-river ferries here are always jam packed as there are no bridges in Paknam. During the day there are probably two or three boats operating at one time. At peak times a lot more. The jetty each side is basically a large concrete slab that bobs up and down as big ships pass by. Signs posted tell you not to overcrowd the jetty. But, does anyone take any notice of this? Not really. People have a habit of trying to get onto the boat before other passengers get off. Much the same as lifts in the department stores. So, as a consequence, the jetty has the weight of two boat-loads of people.
For myself, I usually wait for the crowds to thin. There is no rush. I think some people have short memories. It must have been about eight years ago when a jetty in Bangkok capsized killing a number of school children. People forget quickly. Even once you are on the boat you are not safe from harm. People are lulled into a false sense of security as the trip across river only take 5-10 minutes. In the past 10 years there has been several accidents where passenger boats on the Chao Phraya River have capsized and people have died.
Every time I get on the cross-river ferry I always look around for life jackets. On the boats that cross from Paknam Market to Phras Samut Chedi there are no life jackets. However there are about a dozen or so buoyancy floats. These are screwed to the ceiling of the boat and the question is whether they will be easier to get to in the event of a collision. Forget about the fact that there isn’t enough to go around!
I am sure after these latest deaths the government will make some noises about everyone having to wear life jackets in the open seas and that boats won’t be allowed to be overloaded with passengers. But, how long do you think that will go on for until things go back to normal? Like I said, some laws are not strictly enforced in Thailand.