They hadn't necessarily imagined it that way - it looked a little different in the brochures. There the small, sewage-poor neighbouring islands are described as a snorkeling and diving paradise with visibility under water of more than 20 meters with lots of animals in all colours.
That's how it looks like there and that's why so many tourists go there, either with boats that were built for snorkeling and diving or, if you want to go faster, with speedboats.
You'll be there in less than an hour and have snorkeling fun all day with thousands of other tourists. On busy days, more than 50 ships anchor in each bay and another 50 are moored on the beach. Even in this bay it can get tight for the individualist looking for peace.
That's how crowded it is in every bay, from a diver's point of view. Each boat can carry 40 to 100 people.
Last Thursday it wasn't so busy, it's low season or the green passion with allusion to the frequent rain at this time. But even during this time, between 8 and 10 dozens of boats set off to the snorkelling and diving paradises in the morning, just like every day. As always, more than half of day tourists were Chinese tourists, who make up the bulk of mass tourism, followed by Russians.
Chinese day-trippers boarding a speedboat in the harbour of Chalong
An ordinary day in paradise called Phuket.
Something was different. On this day, Phuket authorities announced that a storm was coming up in the afternoon and that they would close some ports and give instructions to the boats on the way to dock at safe harbours or sheltered bays.
Well, the authorities talk a lot when the day is long, but people have to make money. Some of the boat captains may have thought so. Anyway, they didn't think about catching their flotation artists, stopping their day trips and returning to the safe harbour of Chalong. The sun was shining, the sea was calm even outside the bays - why break off and ruin the day for people and fight for money?
In the south of Phuket, where I live, the storm arrived around half past five in the afternoon and was nothing special. It quickly became dark, the tin roofs clattered under the waterfall rain, some rattled even in the storm, because they were built with Thaitech, in addition the trees rushed and threw off from time to time a branch or fronds and the power failed. So like every storm, sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, sometimes with a break in between, just a typical Thai-style storm.
Around 22.00 it was finally over, which you can reliably recognize by the fact that someone turns on the power.
My thoughts were, as so often with swimming and snorkelling and diving and the conscience that this won't be possible again for a few days, because the water is so turbulent and you are tossed back and forth by the breakers and you see nothing down anyway, not to talk about all the plastic garbage that then swims in the water.
The next morning I read in the news that a diving boat capsized and a few speedboats too and the rescue operation, which was interrupted at night, has been running again since the early morning.
But as is the case with the accustoming effect, in an area where several tourists have to be pulled out of the water every day because they overestimate themselves and underestimate the sea, such a message has only a small entertainment value.
I got a bit more alert when it was announced at noon on Fridays that several speedboats were thrown far onto the beach. In the end, this means that these captains have completely ignored the call from the authorities. One wishes these people the plague on their necks, but at least a lifelong loss of license.
So one becomes curious and realizes that the capsized diving boat with about 100 men, woman and child fully occupied "Chinese and a few Russians" not only capsized, but also sank immediately, because the 5 m high waves wanted it so and one suspects the tragedy. Sure, everyone wears a life jacket, but with this swell and because of the many non-swimmers and the guaranteed panic among the tourists who sought protection in the salon, there will probably also be people who could not get out of there.
On ships like the Phoenix it looks like this because of the space available. There is not much space there and even less possibility to grab on.
Imagine that with 100 people in a swell that reaches to the bridge.
(These are pictures of another ship of the same size, which is also a sad memory. I broke my toe on one of these folding chairs because I lost my balance due to the rough sea and had to take a balancing step. Those were waves of less than a meter.)
But you still say shit happens to yourself, although you know the route, know the boats, know the area. There are simply too many drowned people in the newspapers and emotionally one is also still with the rescuing divers in the cave near Bangkok. And you are already looking forward to the new wreck at the bottom. 36 meters is ideal, because not everyone is allowed to go down there, so it will not be so crowded and it will be a good dive spot near Phuket. It's cynical, but it is.
But on Saturday, when I read the Dave's facebook entry, it quickly became personal and suddenly very close. Dave is my team leader in reef maintenance and coral planting, full-time he owns a diving school and a bar in Patong.
Dave has been helping the recovery divers of the Coast Guard since Friday, together with other dive professionals from all over the world, in the search and recovery of the possible survivors. In concrete terms, he helps with the logistics, i.e. bodies up to the surface and technology down to the wreck of the Phoenix.
When he described how a body was sent to him on the first descent, still wearing a life jacket, but still dead, then, only then did I have honest compassion.
And then there was the thought of whether I could help with such a tragedy.
The human psyche is weird, at least mine!?
Only now I could feel how these tourists must have felt, how much panic they must have had... and all because a few people were too careless.
Up to now 49 have been recovered alive, 42 only dead and 14 are still floating somewhere.
All captains of the sunken ships are well.
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