Representatives of jet ski businesses sit bored at the City Hall
meeting, knowing that so far, they have nothing to fear as no one is
doing anything but talking about their extortion scams.
Nearly three months after promising a strict
crackdown on scamming jet ski vendors, Pattaya officials are no closer
to actually ending near-daily incidents of extortion and intimidation of
tourists by beachfront criminal elements.
In two separate meetings July 26, top Banglamung,
Pattaya and police officials again reviewed cases in which jet ski
operators bilked tourists out of hundreds of thousands of baht weekly
for non-existent damage to the water craft but again failed to initiate
concrete steps to actually stop it.
At Pattaya City Hall, Deputy Mayor Ronakit Ekasingh
pledged that the city, Banglamung District and marine police would set
up a joint mobile task force to monitor jet ski vendors and mediate
disputes, install signs publicizing the city service along the beach and
again discuss with vendors registration of their vehicles. He also
threatened to outright ban all jet skis from Pattaya and Jomtien Beach
should those measures fail.
Ronakit’s tough talk, however, simply repeats
promises made March 11 after Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome made a surprise,
plainclothes visit to Pattaya Beach, telling scamming vendors “their
cards had been marked” and directed Ronakit to begin drafting new
regulations at a meeting the following day.
That March session was a near repeat of last week’s
meeting, with marine police, business owners and public officials
calling for a commission to determine costs for jet ski damage and
service disputes with other boat operators, registration of all jet ski
vendors, and the opening of 24-hour “tourist service centers” where
disputes can be settled.
In the two-and-a-half months since, none of those
measures has been enacted and no dates were set last week for the latest
Even less progress was made at the second meeting
July 26 between top officials from the Chonburi Provincial Police,
Pattaya Tourist Police, Marine Police, Pattaya City Council and the
city’s Marine Department.
While everyone attending agreed the scams are doing
irreparable damage to the city’s reputation, Chonburi Provincial Police
Superintendent Maj. Gen. Tanet Pinmuang-ngam and Tourist Police
commander Lt. Col. Arun Promphan said there was basically nothing they
could do because the Pattaya administration still has not established
any laws or regulations to govern the operations of jet ski vendors.
Their conclusion echoed that of Banglamung District
Chief Chaowalit Saeng-Uthai at last week’s city hall meeting and even
Ronakit’s comments as far back as April 12. Chaowalit noted, however,
that extortion is a criminal offense and he encourages victims to
contact police in such cases.
However, even Itthiphol has said Pattaya’s police are
part of the problem, with corrupt officers assisting scammers in
extorting money from tourists and earning some of the profits. The mayor
said in March he was working on plans to “keep police out of
negotiations,” although he added that there were many honest officers
who he believed he could work with.
At last week’s meeting, Tanet said police are unable
to officially do anything without regulations governing operations of
jet ski vendors. He said city codes should cover everything from
operating hours to responsibility for damage to who would mediate
disputes. He also echoed the call for establishment of customer-service
centers at three points along Pattaya Beach and on Jomtien Beach.
“Police can only become involved after receiving a
complaint a law has been violated,” Tanet said.
Until such regulations are enacted, incidents such as
one that occurred July 24 - which prompted last week’s meeting - will
continue to happen.
In that case, three Indian tourists rented a jet ski
for 30 minutes. After returning it the jet ski operator claimed the trio
had damaged the scooter, pointing to damage that either the Indians did
not make or had been there for months.
The vendors demanded tens of thousands of baht in
compensation and an argument ensued, becoming heated to the point of the
vendors physically threatening the tourists. Eventually a police officer
conveniently appeared who “assisted” the tourists in negotiating the
damage down to 10,000 baht.
The scandal has become so widespread the Justice
Ministry and Chonburi’s governor in April called the situation an
“insult” to the image of the entire country and demanded swift action is
needed to resolve a “serious problem.”
To date, however, the only thing that’s happened is
“While there are no laws allowing for jet ski
businesses in Pattaya, the city has been lenient and allowed them to
continue,” Ronakit said last week. “However, when these problems occur,
the city must act decisively. They will not be allowed to further
exploit tourists and, if they fail to comply with new regulations, they
will be banned.”
“Because there are no laws governing jet skis,
vendors should operate honestly and not create problems or extort
tourists,” Chaowait pleaded to operators assembled at the city hall
meeting. “If that occurs, the state cannot ignore it.”
Not ignoring the problem and actually doing something tangible to
resolve it are two different matters, however. With officials repeating
promises made three months ago, it remains unclear if any concrete moves
to end the beachfront scams will ever materialize.