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Phuket 2014: A look back at news over the year


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Phuket 2014: A look back at news over the year
The Phuket News

all that was left of the illegal Lotus restaurant on Bang Tao Beach after it was pulled down

PHUKET: -- As ever, it has been an eventful year in Phuket, featuring the good, the bad and the downright ugly, criminals, giant snakes, deadly fires and deadly accidents on land, on the water and under it. All human life is here. Here are the highlights, month by month.

The deadline passes for Lee “Pitbull” Aldhouse to appeal against his 25-year sentence for murdering American Marine Dashawn Longfellow; Rock star Sek Loso cancels a Phuket concert after a Facebook row about his political opinions; Popular Phuket radio personality and DJ Paul “DJ Doris” Norris dies in a road crash; The B10m cruise boat Lady Andaman sinks after hitting a concrete block on the seabed in Chalong Bay; Swede Johan Sebastian Ljung is sentenced to life for the knife killing of Maksim Schantz (Ljung’s co-accused, Tommy Viktor Söderlund, also gets life two months later); Prakong Choojan from Phuket dies when a grenade is thrown at anti-government protesters in Bangkok; Nine statues of heroic figures in the 18th Century war against Burma are paraded down the island to be installed at the Victory Field in Thalang.

Twenty people are rescued from a burning dive boat Bunmee I. It is the third such incident in three weeks. On January 29 the dive boat Magic Carpet was holed and sank near Koh Tachai, and on February 9 the Blue Star caught fire and sank in Burmese waters; Fortunately there are no casualties in any of these incidents. Blaming political turmoil, particularly in Bangkok, major developer Sansiri slashes its condo plans.

Two hundred tuk-tuks blockade Patong all night over “unfair” arrests; Reports emerge of Chalong police officers extorting money from the dive industry. Eventually two officers are arrested; Russian couple Alexei Slabinskiy and Yana Strizheus are kidnapped by Russian loan sharks. She is let go and flees back home. He is believed dead – a body found in the countryside is thought to be his. The kidnappers escape; DNA tests confirm that remains found in the Chalong area are those of seven-year-old Natthapa “Nong Dear” Papkaew, missing since Dec 2013. Her death remains a mystery; Four workers die from poison gas inhalation while working in a sewer; Lawyer Chaiyod “Tui” Panyawai wins the Phuket seat in elections for the national Senate.

Plans for a mini-city at Phuket International Airport are announced. The city will include condos and shopping malls; Businessman Boonkeng Srisansuchart stops filling in a tin lake surrounded by land he owns – authorities reluctantly agree he has no permits to do this; Thousands are stuck in a mega-traffic jam after local people block the main north-south highway to protest about police handling of the rape of a pregnant woman; Chalermluk Kebsab beats long-time Godfather of Patong, Pian Keesin, in local polls to become Mayor of the town.

New Zealander Gary Halpin, a Tourist Police volunteer, is jailed for eight years for dealing in methamphetamine; Sirinart Marine National Park chief Cheewapap Cheewatham requests and receives a transfer after death threats from land “investors” he has been investigating for encroaching in the park; Plans are announced for Blu Phuket, a shopping mall five times the area of Central Festival; DNA tests confirm that a body found in the countryside is that of kidnap victim Alexei Slabinskiy; May 22: The Thai military, led by Gen Prayuth Chan-Ocha, seize power from the government of PM Yingluck Shinawatra. To the dismay of the entertainment industry an all-night curfew is imposed and all community (FM) radio stations are ordered to stop broadcasting.

On June 3, after hundreds of people have been summoned for interviews with the military, the curfew is cancelled. Hooters restaurant opens in Patong. Sixty-five Cambodians, believing rumours (probably originating from the Cambodian government) that the Thai military is conducting a pogrom against illegal labour, turn themselves in and get sent home (many, realising there is no pogrom, return weeks later); Tawee Thongchaem, Mayor of Patong, and three close associates are arrested on “mafia” charges; 91 taxi drivers are arrested or surrender to answer related charges; Taxi stands on public land are pulled down, along with illegal restaurants and bars built along Bang Tao Beach; At Surin Beach the high-end beach clubs demolish themselves.

Vendors and beach-chair operators begin to move off Patong beach, the last stronghold to be toppled by the Army’s “clean the beaches” campaign; Italian investigative journalist Tony Papaleo, on holiday in Phuket, is stabbed by a teen gang; Heavy storms sweep in and damage resort coastlines; Immigration announces that tougher penalties for overstay – including blacklisting – are in force. All out-in visa hops are stopped because of suspicions that many doing such visa runs are not tourists, but are working illegally in Thailand; The discovery that a dolphin show is being built in Chalong causes an outcry among animal lovers and sparks an ongoing campaign to stop the dolphinarium. Singing star Amita “Tata” Young marries Chat-adul “Mor” Sinapongpipit at Sri Panwa.

A fire in a Phuket
Town furniture store kills four people including a 10-year-old child; A system to allow meter taxis full access to Phuket Airport is inaugurated, breaking a number of monopolies; The Phuket International (Siriroj) Hospital is sold to the Bangkok Hospital group for B3.61 billion; The new mayor of Patong inspects the town’s drainage system and finds multiple cases of rule-breaking, bad construction and poor design that probably contribute to the regular flooding of the town in the rainy season. Ikea announces it will open a “pickup point concept” store in Phuket; The northbound lane of the Central underpass is opened to traffic; The illegal Lotus restaurant on Bang Tao Beach is ripped down; the manager of Rock Hard in Patong, Gerard Caleo, on a trip home to Australia, is arrested for a murder committed 24 years ago; The new chief of Sirinart Park reveals that he sleeps in a bulletproof bunker and has received death threats.

Hungarian/Israeli Moshe David, aka Gabor Nemeth, is sentenced to life for the murder of Peter Reisz in Phuket. He faces another trial in Samui for the murder of another Hungarian, billionaire Laszlo Csapai; The Marine Department orders that all foreign-flag yachts entering Phuket waters must be equipped with tracking devices; Patong’s former mayor, Pian Keesin, and six associates surrender to police to answer charges of “Ang Yi” (mafia) activities.

Ao Yon and parts of Chalong Bay Marina are ordered closed to all private boats, the former for “security” reasons, the latter for repairs; In one of Phuket’s largest ever drug busts, B9 million worth of methamphetamine is seized. Those arrested point to a big supplier, a woman in Bangkok; Australian tourist Paul Goudie is mauled by a tiger at Tiger Kingdom. He is not seriously injured but the attack adds fuel to the growing campaign against exploitation of animals for the amusement of tourists; A speedboat full of tourists crashes into a trawler, flinging passengers into the water. A Korean couple are found dead two days later near the sunken wreck of the boat. The driver admits he was distracted; Pian Keesin, former Mayor of Patong, the island’s most colourful and controversial political player, who is under investigation for corruption and “mafia” activities, dies of a heart attack; Chinese “businessman” and “Future richest man in world” Chong Mi Chiew is arrested for running a massive Ponzi scheme in China, Malaysia and Thailand; A 62-year-old Phuketian, Suwat Saejong, shoots a motorbike taxi river dead in a road rage incident near Rajabhat University; Beachgoers in Patong are alarmed to see a huge waterspout offshore. It lasts about five minutes before dissolving.

A Russian tourists dies after crashing a jet-ski; A group from Bangkok meet the Governor and others to propose a mega-concert on the beach in Phuket. After a frigid reception they change their mind; Phuket shows off preparations to handle any case of the deadly ebola virus; A mahout is killed by his elephant in Phang Nga. Days later, another is killed by his elephant in Phuket; Phuket hosts 3,000 athletes who take part in the Asean Beach Games 2014. The event is a huge success, not least because Thailand wins by far the most medals; Uber launches its taxi-call app for smartphones in Bangkok and Phuket, but runs into a row over its Uber X service (in Bangkok only), which is labelled illegal by the government; Considerable confusion among tourists as different parts of the government announce that they may or may not bring their own umbrellas onto the beach.

A fire in Patong destroys six shops; A 10-year-old child is hurt when shelves of paint at Homeworks in Central Festival East collapse like dominoes; Seven-year-old Molly Bailey dies after the car she is in crashes into a poorly marked, 2-metre-deep hole left by the subsidence of a small back road; The Parks Department recommends that the Land Department rescind land papers for a number of sites on the edges of Sirinart Park including land under Trisara, the Pullman and Malaiwana; An investigation is launched into alleged graft in the construction of the pier at Rawai; A six-metre python, “the largest in a decade”, is caught in a home in Chalong; Five soldiers and five civilians, hired by a Ukrainian businessmen to collect a B15 million debt, are arrested after allegedly kidnapping the debtors; two experienced Russian divers from Phuket die in a cave-diving accident in Chiewlan Reservoir.

Source: http://www.thephuketnews.com/phuket-2014-a-look-back-at-news-over-the-year-50378.php

-- Phuket News 2015-01-01

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