Pattaya, the 1st of June 2010 [PDN]: Ilhami Ozturk , a Turkish national, was the leader of a tour group ferrying fellow Turkish nationals from Pattaya to Koh Larn on the 5th of December 2006. On the return journey, in weather conditions that had forced many operators to cease transportation, the overcrowded, poorly maintained and uninsured boat that 18 strong tour group were travelling on sank,, approximately 1 kilometer off the coast of Koh Larn.
Fighting in rough seas for two hours with an insufficient amount of life jackets, two passengers where admitted to the Bangkok-Pattaya Hospital with shock and Ilhami Ozturk was never seen alive again. Despite not being a strong swimmer, Ilhami as the tour leader, forfeited his floatation vest to one of the other tourists. Rescuers took more than 2 hours to attend the scene, which was no more the 1km from Koh Larn and a fully operational emergency response team.
Ilhami’s brother Allan has been desperately fighting through the Thai legal system for nearly 4 years to gain some form of compensation or accountability for his brother’s avoidable death, but as yet to no avail. Tuesdays donation of Bt200,000 from Pattaya City Mayor Itthiphol Khunpluem, although gratefully accepted, is not even a third of the expense that Allan and his family have incurred whilst financial Ilhami’s repatriation, funeral and legal fees. Since the day of his brothers unfortunate death, Allan has claimed to have spent close to Bt1 million.
Thanking the Mayor for his generosity and hard work in attempting to assist in his fight for justice, Allan voiced his determination to continue the fight against the administrators and private individuals that were avoiding accountability over the death of Ilhami. The somewhat complicated, ‘bureaucratic’ and at times political civil suit against the owner of the boat and the tour company to which it belonged, has involved both local and national administrators. National administrations in the form of the Thai Ministry of Transportation and the National Human Rights Commission have been contacted, who have as yet proved powerless to affect the outcome of proceeding, although acknowledging that there is indeed a case.
At present only a criminal case against the 19-year-old driver for “negligence in operating a motorboat” has seen a result, after over 2-years in court. The young man was handed a 2-year suspended prison sentence by the magistrate who took into account the driver’s age and clean criminal record. He is now currently operating another tourist tour boat in the Pattaya waters, still without the ‘required’ licensing.
The owner of the boat and tour company, referred to as Mr. H in our attached features, has had no apparent action having taken against him by the Maritime Authorities in Pattaya. Despite confirmed reports that the boat has not be registered or insured and that the crash was not even reported to the higher authorities in Bangkok, as is procedure, Mr. H has not been reprimanded by any of the applicable authorities and is still freely operating despite the presence of a serious lawsuit pending against him and his company.
Unfortunately, due to some extenuating circumstances and poor management of Allen’s lawsuit by the initial legal representative, Allen’s fight has been further hampered by prolonged ‘due processes’ and judicial proceedings. Despite having no clear end in sight Allan is determined to proceed with the case, even if the end result merely highlights the inadequacies and mismanagement of the maritime authorities operating in Pattaya.
Below we have a brief interview with Allan regarding his current sentiments on his continuing fight and the generosity of Pattaya’s Mayor in donating Bt200,000 to his cause.
PDN’s Exclusive Interview with Mayor Itthiphol Khunpluem
PDN: Having followed Allan’s case for sometime and supporting the idea of mediation with Mr. H, which has been unsuccessful, why have you decided to help by donating your own money? Do you think in doing so you opened the door for other people to come running?
Itthiphol: I have decided to act in this case due to the extreme length of time that Allan has been fighting unsuccessfully in court. It is the collective will of Pattaya City Hall and all of its administrators to treat both tourists and local businesses with equality, however; in this case it seems that the business/boat owner is not accepting his responsibility in this matter and has been delaying the legal processes as a result. In an effort to achieve a positive result I have decided to assist Allan by donating Bt200,000 of my own money. I am not expecting a ‘wave’ of similar incidents, Allan’s fight is relatively unique.
PDN: Surely you realise that, for Allan, this case is not just about the money, but about the inadequacies of the ‘system’ in dealing with basic human rights and consumer protection laws? In addition, what is your long term plan to change the current situation in regards to the enforcement of applicable maritime laws, which have been proved inadequate?
Itthiphol: Our duty of care as the city administrators means that we can effectively manage and somewhat control the laws of water transportation in the region. At present we are extensively cooperating with the national administrators and the Harbour Department in dealing with the effective management of all maritime laws. Two organisations, the Boat Cooperative and the Boat Association have been setup to monitor the water transportation in Pattaya Bay and the surrounding waterways and regulate the businesses and boats operating in the region.
Allan’s case is exceptional in terms of the length of time that it has taken to get a result, however; Allan’s fight and your [PDN] involvement has definitely helped to highlight inefficiencies in our maritime management, particularly after the recent Chinese tour boat accident. Allan has succeeded in ‘shaking’ up the maritime departments and making it known that procedures are there to be followed and flaunting of the laws will not be tolerated.
PDN: Is there still a special tourist advice department in existence?
Itthiphol: We do still have an advice department, but it has now been separated into varying categories and is handled by individual departments relevant to the given complaint. Police/criminal matters are handled by the Pattaya or Chon-Buri police stations, whilst the Tourist Police and Volunteer Police are also delegated to assist in handling tourists complaints. Although we receive many direct complaints through the Pattaya City Hall we now pass them onto the relevant departments which are setup or entrusted to deal with the issue. Each city department has its own budgets and procedures for rectifying complaints etc. We encourage all city departments to take appropriate actions in dealing with complaints to make sure any issues are resolved so as not to tarnish Pattaya’s image.
PDN: Do you feel as though we [PDN] or Allan have pressured you in this case, which obviously involves a very well connected and influential man in the Pattaya City area? Did you feel responsible to pay some form of damages to Allan yourself?
Itthiphol: I have not felt pressured as such, but definitely both I and the entire Pattaya administration departments concerned feel some form of responsibility in Allan’s case. We are talking about the death of a human being, a possibly avoidable death that along with Allan’s fight and your perusal of the story in the media has helped us to see the deficiencies in our regulations in terms of maritime transport. This case will hopefully change the system for the benefit of all individuals involved and make people aware that we are trying to change the system for the greater good.
Allan has a right to continue with his fight against all people involved with his brother’s death. I fully realise that donating Bt200,000 to Allan does not alleviate the emotion cost of losing his brother, nor do I expect that it has covered even a fraction of the cost of his current legal fees and other expenses. I did not feel responsible to pay Allan any money, but have done so out of my own personal will and compassion for his difficult and prolonged fight through the courts.