Tsunami Long Boat Appeal
The Story of the Boat Paid for by the club for the 'Tsunami Long Boat Appeal'
The Asian Tsunami - Southern Thailand
I was holidaying in Singapore on the morning of Boxing Day prior to flying to Thailand to spend the New Year with friends. That morning Ireceived a frantic call from friends in the island of Phuket saying that they were heading inland due to a massive wave crashing into the resort of Patong Beach where they lived. From my position, overlooking the serene Singapore River, this seemed difficult to take in, but as the day progressed and TV and radio began to report the earthquake off Aceh and the resultant Tsunami,the implications became all too real.
Ihave been holidaying in southern Thailand and Malaysia regularly and have a number of friends, both expats and locals, who were in danger but contacting them through the overloaded phone systems on that day was near impossible. Having confirmed the safety of some friends, and sadly the loss and disappearance of others, Imanaged to fly from Singapore to Phuket on the morning of the 28th December - Iwas one of only 8 people on the usually full plane. On arrival at an unusually empty Phuket nternational Airport the sland appeared unscathed but once within the coastal area the scale of the tragedy became apparent.
The site of a popular beach resort that suffered numerous casualties.
Walking along Patong's beach road 48 hours after the Tsunami struck, the destroyed bars, restaurants and souvenir stalls presented an eerie juxtaposition to the normally noisy and bustling thoroughfare of tourists,souvenir vendors and taxis. There were unturned cars and boats in buildings and shops - the pool of the Holiday nn resort had a taxi and 2 motorbikes in it and the roadside cashpoint kiosk had been repositioned to the hotel lobby 200 yards away. n comparison to these bizarre, and in other circumstances, hilarious sights were the real scenes of despair.
Locals were recovering the bodies of staff who had drowned as a massive wall of mud engulfed the main supermarket,and dazed tourists were being helped by hotel and bar staff to find loved ones and possessions in the remnants of their once idyllic holiday venue. Despite these scenes and the fact that many had not only lost family and friends but also their livelihood the resilient Thai people ensured that their western guests were taken care of first before they themselves turned to the task of clearing up and attempting to restart their lives. Within 2 days of the Tsunami,those bars and restaurants that could were open. This was not a cynical and commercial disregard for loss of life,but rather the simple necessity, without the tourist trade the local economy would fail, particularly as insurance is often a luxury not within the range of most Thai pockets. Although only 5% of Phuket was affected by the Tsunami,that relatively small area represents the prime tourist sites,which drive the economy of the sland. The rush to reopen by the locals was simply the natural desire to provide income for the families - there is no social safety net in Thailand.
Another devastated tourist hotel.
Meeting friends, and surveying the remains of their properties, brought home the power and ferocity that the sea brought to bear in just a few short moments. One couple, resident in Phuket for many years, had their dream beach home completely destroyed but thankfully they had left home early that morning to check on construction work in a holiday development they were building in Khao Lak on the mainland of South Thailand. Any euphoria they felt from their narrow escape from Phuket quickly dissipated on arrival at Khao Lak; the property was severely damaged but worse, eight of their staff had been killed. The bodies were found huddled, ironically, in the partly completed swimming pool.The area of Khao Lak, in many ways, suffered in a more complete manner than Phuket; the area is a beautiful national park popular with both tourists and Thais.Tragically one of the area's attractions, being low lying and providing good access to the beaches, proved to be its downfall on Boxing Day. There are well constructed
international hotel chains all along the coast in this area but many are designed such that visitors enjoy there own villas and chalets virtually on the beach, hence the heavy toil of foreigners. Distressing though this is, the impact on the local communities of Khao Lak is the most devastating to witness; not only was there a massive loss of life in the fishing villages along this coast but those affected have also lost their homes and livelihoods.
Thai friends had been to the area to provide some immediate practical aid to the refugees in makeshift tented villages. They returned to Phuket reporting that,as the Thai infrastructure is relatively robust by regional standards, water, electricity and basis foodstuffs were beginning to reach those most in need. However, the authorities could not provide the basic cooking and cleaning items needed as the logistics and emergency services efforts were concentrated on recovery of the dead, delivery of clean water and prevention of disease. One evening a small group of us, Thai and British, decided that as we all had our own, or hired, cars, 4x4s etc we should try and deliver soon assistance to these refugees.
This car was recovered 8 days after the Tsunami; the driver is still inside the vehicle.
Our Thai friends triggered this initiative; generally the Thais are very resilient to disaster and automatically start helping each other when in adversity rather than wait for assistance from the authorities. So, the next morning our small convoy arrived at a local cash and carry warehouse where we bought pots, pans, bowls, cooking utensils, food, cleaning equipment, portable gas cookers and most importantly, footballs and other toys for the children. Having assured the staff that we weren't opening a restaurant chain, we drove the lOOkm to Khao Lak.
Driving through the worst areas of Khao Lak it was surprising that anyone survived; every building within 2km of the coast was either destroyed or damaged. Every Temple we passed gave off an obvious stench from the bodies being attended to by Buddhist Monks; Thai casualties were in flimsy wooded coffins stacked five to six high and the western dead were stored in refrigerated vans awaiting repatriation.
This is a Police coastal patrol vessel; it came to rest nearly 2km from the coastline.Despite these scenes it was clear that considerable effort was being made to re establish basic services by the Thai authorities and by locals on a 'self help' basis; debris was being removed and potable water being distributed from bowsers and electrical cables were being reconnected, often whilst live! On arrival at the main refugee camp it was clear that the local authorities had been busy organising their remaining assets. The Thai army was constructing temporary huts, international and local medical teams were established and aid was being distributed, all under the dedicated supervision of the local Mayor, known as an 'Orbiter'. The contents of our vehicles were quickly unloaded and allocated to those who needed it most, except for the balls and toys which were leapt upon by the children who ran off with them to the fields to play - probably one of the most satisfying scenes.In discussions with the Orbiter the scale of the damage became clear; he had responsibility for eight villages, mostly fishing communities, and reported casualties of up to 1500 people in one village alone and most of the villages were literally washed away. His greatest concern was that these communities would become dependent on support from outside and his priority was to get his people back on the road to recovery and self-sustainability. He asked that future assistance be targeted towards rebuilding their fishing industry, which not only supplied their families with food but also provided income through selling on the surplus.
The remains of a pickup truck, the other half was 3km down the roadIt was obvious talking to this official that despite the personal loss that he and other community leaders had experienced they were all determined to rebuild their villages and resume as normal as life as possible. They didn't want the communities to drift off to the cities where their family life and traditions would dissolve and were insistent that cash handouts were not the answer to their medium and long-term problems. When asked what they did want the Orbitor replied that the core of rebuilding the villages would be getting the fishermen into boats and back at sea, this would be a significant psychological and practical step in the recovery process.The Orbitor said that these boats would not be needed for 2 - 3 months i.e. not until March/April, as it would take that long for the remaining fisherman to feel confident to return to the sea and for the necessary infrastructure,such as piers and market places, to be established. He went on to suggest that boats, motors, nets etc were best sourced locally rather than having western equivalents delivered. Economically this makes good sense as procurement of equipment in area would support the local Thai boat building industry, which has also been hard hit,and would also be cheaper than purchasing gear from overseas. Another issue is that the 'long tail' fishing boats used in this region form part of the tradition and culture of the people that would otherwise be lost.
The Way Forward
Following our visits to Khao Lak and talking with the local Orbiter, a few of us (based in the UK and expats in Thailand) decided that we wanted to help these fishing villages on a long term basis rather just in the immediate aftermath. The large pledges of money made by various nations and the general public will tend to be channelled through the large aid organisation such as the United Nations,
International red Cross etc. This scale of aid is essential for those in poor countries that have seen the worst of the devastation, ndonesia, Sri Lanka etc.
The Thai government has said it does not need this scale of assistance, which is understandable as relative small percentages of the country and population were affected and Thailand's infrastructure and agencies are relatively well developed. However, as Imentioned, there is no social safety net in Thailand and insurance for the people we met in Khao Lak is beyond their means. This makes reconstruction of communities, after the initial emergency aid, uncertain whereas in the UK grants and insurance payments would cater for longer-term recovery.
Therefore we are establishing a registered charity in the UK to receive funds and send them directly to Thailand for the procurement of Long Tail Boats, motors, nets and cages for the villages of Khao Lak. A Long Tail boat is the traditional coastal fishing vessel in Thailand and is effectively a large ribbed canoe:
The cost of these boats is typically £400 - £1200 each, depending on size and whether there are newly built or refurbished. A British friend who has a home in Phuket has already sourced four of these and more will be available depending on the funds that can be raised. This initiative is an opportunity for genuine rebuilding aid to be delivered directly to those who can turn it into a practical way of recovering the life and community that was obliterated on Boxing Day.The Thai Tsunami Long Tail Boat Relief FundThe driving force behind the charity is the MD of a bespoke software company based in Dorset, he also has a home in Phuket and has enlisted the assistance of his company accountants and solicitor free of charge to manage the accounts and registration of the charity. The charity will have three trustees and its aim will be to channel funds directly to Thailand for the purchase of boats and equipment over approximately the next 2 years. Using volunteers in the UK and Thailand, who will cover their own costs, will ensure that overhead costs are an absolute minimum, indeed, our objective is that no money should be spent other than in Thailand for the procurement of the boats, motors and nets.
Providing Long Tail boats to the fishing communities of Southern Thailand will provide tangible results to our donors of the good that their money is doing and regular feedback will be provided by the charity (I plan to return in early April to assess progress). The Thai Tsunami Long Tail Boat Relief Fund will be registered shortly and a bank accounted opened to receive funds, individuals have already pledged approximately £8,000, but more is needed.
If you feel you would like to make a donation to the Fund, Iwill distribute full details of the Fund, and the bank account, once the Fund is officially established as a registered charity.