Saturday, April 21, 2012

Jet ski at your own peril in Phuket and Pattaya

Police are ‘hand-in-glove’ with the mafia

‘Jet ski at your own peril in Phuket and Pattaya’

The beaches at these Thai resorts hide a dark secret — a goon-powered jet ski racket which intimidates and rips off foreign vacationers. A Bangalorean narrates his recent ordeal

Thailand has become a destination of choice for Indian vacationers in recent years, not least because a typical package, all found, is even cheaper than a similar one within the country. So much so that around 9.1 lakh Indians — a large chunk of them Bangaloreans — visited Thailand last year.

But the Eden of their dreams has a dark underbelly which reveals itself on the beaches of Phuket and Pattaya — a local mafia-run jet ski scam which has ripped off scores of foreign tourists. The racketeers’ modus operandi is simple: they rent out jet skis, which have some damage in a not-so-discernible place, to vacationers at attractive rates. Then, when the joyride is over, they pounce on the unsuspecting tourists for having caused the ‘damage’ and extort huge amounts from them, quite often at knifepoint.

Raul Shanth, a youngster from Bangalore who went to Thailand on a five-day trip recently along with his family, fell prey to the racket. His warning to fellow-Bangaloreans: Be ultra-cautious or, better still, desist from hiring a jet ski at the beaches of Phuket and Pattaya.

Speaking to Bangalore Mirror, Raul said, “At Pattaya, the hotel staff warned us to stay off jet skiing. But on the beach, I was approached by a middle-aged guy who offered jet ski rides at an attractive rate. He pooh-poohed our concerns and said we would in no way get cheated.”

Raul and his father hired two jet skis at 600 bahts (around Rs 1,000) each for half an hour. “Having been warned earlier, we took photographs of all the sides of the skis before heading into the water. When we returned, the man suddenly turned aggressive and blamed us for damaging the watercraft. When we showed him the photographs which indicated the skis had been dented even before we had used them, he refused to listen. He was joined by several goons, and they demanded 80,000 bahts (around Rs 1.34 lakh) from us,” Raul said.

The local police merely directed the father-son duo to the tourist police, but there was no sign of the latter for over an hour. Meanwhile, the goons were becoming more threatening. “For a moment, we got the feeling that we were at the mercy of a group of autowallas back home in Bangalore! We asked a hotel staffer to mediate, but all he did was translate the goons’ demand. When the cops finally arrived, they said they wanted to verify our passports. As we were going to our hotel room to get our passports, one cop hinted that it was better to ‘settle’ the matter with the gang. Meanwhile, the goons had climbed down to 20,000 baht and we had little choice but to cough up the amount. We had hired the skis for around Rs 2,020 but ended up paying Rs 33,674 more!” Raul said.

Raul’s is just one of the many ugly encounters faced by foreign tourists in Phuket and Pattaya. At least four jet ski scams take place everyday, and many of the victims are from India. The goons are known to carry weapons, including firearms, and extort the ‘damages’ at knifepoint. According to the local media, there is a nexus between the ski owners and the cops.

According to a travel website, the jet ski looks okay to the undiscerning eye but only later reveals a gash below the hull. In fact, a group of Indian youngsters who were victims of the racket have done a sting operation using spycams and posted it on the internet as a warning to other tourists.

Speaking to Bangalore Mirror, Chanchai Charanvatnakit, Thai consul-general, said, “The Thai government is concerned about the jet ski scam. As we are an open society, there will always be some black sheep. We have asked the police and the tourist police to take stern action against such scamsters. We have also asked the local authorities in Phuket and Pattaya to take utmost care in protecting the interests of tourists.”

One tourist to Thailand posted his frightening experience on a website. He and two companions were offered a jet ski at 400 bahts (Rs 673) for 30 minutes. They were asked to write down their hotel details on a piece of paper. When they returned, he writes, “There were about 10 of the roughest-looking men I have ever seen, screaming at us, saying we had broken two of the jet skies. They demanded 77,000 bahts (Rs 1.29 lakh) and threatened to call the police. They took out knives and surrounded us. After an hour, they came down to 20,000 bahts (Rs 33,674), which we regretfully paid. A policeman was right beside the beach. I ran over to him, but before I opened my mouth he put up his hand and said ‘not my problem’.”
In another instance, a group of holidayers from Melbourne had to pay up 56,500 bahts (Rs 95,128) for ‘damage’ to four jet skis which they had not caused. In November, an Irish tourist in Pattaya was knifed after he refused to pay for alleged damage to a jet ski.

more Jet ski problems --->

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