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Update July 2018

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Thailand News

Update July 10 , 2018

4 more boys brought out of flooded cave

An ambulance allegedly carrying one of the rescued boys heads to the hospital in Chiang Rai city, Monday, July 9. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Kaweewit Kaewjinda

Mae Sai (AP) — Four more of the youth soccer players trapped for over two weeks in the flooded cave in northern Thailand were brought out on Monday, an official said, bringing to eight the number extracted in the ongoing high-stakes rescue operation.

"The eighth person is out and the operation is done for today," Sitthichai Klangpattana, flag officer to Thailand's navy SEAL commander, told The Associated Press. "Four boys were brought out today."

He didn't comment on the health of the boys or how well the operation had gone. After Monday's rescue effort, four boys and their coach were still inside the labyrinth cave.

On Sunday, when the high-risk rescue operation to rescue the 12 boys and their coach began, teams of divers brought out four of the boys but waited several hours before confirming their safe rescue.

The Facebook page of the Thai Navy SEALs, who have been central to the rescue operation, was updated Monday night to say "two days, eight boars" — a reference to the Wild Boars, the name of the boys' soccer team. The message, like most posted by the SEALs, ended with the fighting cheer adopted from the U.S. Navy: Hooyah.

Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said earlier Monday that the second phase began at 11 a.m. and authorities "hope to hear good news in the next few hours."

"All conditions are still as good as they were yesterday," Narongsak told a news conference. "The boys' strength, the plan — today we are ready like before. And we will do it faster because we are afraid of the rain."

Authorities have been rushing to extract the boys, ages 11-16, and their coach from the cave as the annual monsoon bears down on the mountainous region in far northern Chiang Rai province. Workers have been laboring around the clock to pump water out of the cave, and authorities said Monday that heavy downpours overnight did not raise water levels inside.

The four boys guided from the cave Sunday in an urgent and dangerous operation that involved them diving through the cave's dark, tight and twisting passages were happy and in good health, authorities said.

"This morning they said they were hungry and wanted to eat khao pad grapao," Narongsak said.

Still, the four were undergoing medical checks in a hospital in the provincial capital and were not yet allowed close contact with relatives due to fear of infections. Relatives were able to see them through a glass partition, the governor said.

The search and rescue operation has riveted people both in Thailand and internationally, with journalists from across the globe traveling to this town along the border with Myanmar to report on the ordeal.

Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda had said early Monday that the same group of expert divers who took part in Sunday's rescue would return to extricate the others because they know the cave conditions and what to do. He had said fresh air tanks needed to be laid along the underwater route.

Authorities have said extracting the entire team from the cave could take up to four days, but Sunday's success raised hopes that it could be done faster. 

5 reported missing from sunken boat are alive

Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha consoles a relative of a victim in the last week's boat accident, Monday, July 9, 2018, on the tourist island of Phuket, Thailand. The death toll from Thursday's boat accident climbed to dozens, in Thailand's biggest tourist-related disaster in years. The boat, with 105 people, including 93 tourists, capsized and sank after it was hit by 5-meter (16-foot) waves. (AP Photo)

Eileen Ng

Phuket (AP) — Five people reported to have been missing from the tour boat that sank in a storm off Phuket last week are alive, authorities said Monday, though it's unclear if the five survived the sinking or never got on the boat.

Phuket Gov. Norrapat Plodthong said authorities are trying to verify their details and some of them may have left Thailand.

Norrapat said the development came after new information emerged from Thai immigration and the Chinese Embassy.

The new information also showed there were 89 tourists, 87 of them Chinese, on the boat, instead of the previous figure of 93, he said.

The number of people who are missing has been lowered from 14 to 10, including the five who are alive but whose whereabouts are unclear, he said. The death toll remains at 42, including a body still trapped under the wreckage.

The double-decker Phoenix capsized and sank late Thursday afternoon after it was hit by 5-meter waves in one of Thailand's worse tourism-related disasters since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed thousands.

Officials said all of the dead were Chinese comprising 13 children, 18 women and 10 men. The age and sex of the body still under the wreckage wasn't known.

Navy officials on Monday were attempting to flip the boat to retrieve the body and check for other possible victims. Special equipment has been brought in to lift up the boat, which is sitting some 45 meters beneath the surface, officials said.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has expressed his "profound sadness" in a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping. In the letter released by the foreign ministry Monday, Prayuth said a full investigation is underway to find the cause of the tragedy and assured Xi his government is determined to ensure such incidents would not recur.

Prayuth arrived in Phuket on Monday to observe the operations and will visit Chinese relatives and survivors at a hospital.

China's tourism ministry warned people to be careful during water-based activities abroad. The notice carried in Chinese media Monday said travelers should closely monitor weather and sea conditions and obey all warnings. Without mentioning Thailand, the notice said some cruise companies exercised lax management and maintained inadequate safety measures.

Police said the captain of the Phoenix has been charged with "careless conduct leading to death" and could face more than three years in jail.

A Chinese relative of a victim in the recent boat sinking is consoled at the Vachira Phuket Hospital in Phuket, Sunday, July 8. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Number of smokers in Thailand down to 10.7 million


Bangkok - A recent tobacco consumption study by the Ministry of Public Health, shows that the number of smokers in Thailand has decreased to 10.7 million, while around 100,000 deaths per year are attributed to coronary heart disease and stroke.

Deputy Permanent-Secretary for Public Health, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong chaired the recent 17th national conference on cigarette smoking. The conference attributed the decrease in the number of smokers to campaigns from 1991-2017 to limit the number of new smokers from the age group 15 - 24, as well as efforts to encourage existing smokers to quit.

The conference also revealed that among the 100,000 deaths per year due to coronary heart disease and stroke, one in five cases was due to cigarette smoking. Nicotine and other toxins found in cigarettes cause a narrowing of the arteries that can lead to heart disease and paralysis.

Govt urged to make rules to regulate blockchain technology


Bangkok - The government and private sector are urging society to be enthusiastic about developments in the financial business such as blockchain technology.

On Sunday, former Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanchana presided over a seminar on blockchain at the Royal Thai Navy Convention Hall. A lot of Thai and foreign businesspeople, many from China, participated in the seminar.

Blockchain is a technology that manages digital assets via a database in which all the nodes in a network possess the same information at all times. Blockchain is currently used by new financial businesses to provide easier and more convenient financial services to customers.

The seminar was expected to encourage blockchain learning and development of new services using blockchain. The seminar suggested the government urgently study the technology, impose clear regulations and support investment in blockchain by the private sector.

Update July 9 , 2018

4 rescued from Thai cave in risky operation; 9 remain inside

In this grab taken from video provide by Chiang Rai Public Relations Office, emergency workers carry a stretcher with one of the rescued boy to be transported by ambulance to a hospital, in Mae Sai, Sunday, July 8. (Chiang Rai Public Relations Office via AP)

Tassanee Vejpongsa and Kaweewit Kaewjinda

Mae Sai (AP) — Expert divers Sunday rescued four of 12 boys from the flooded cave in northern Thailand where they had been trapped with their soccer coach for more than two weeks.

Eight boys and the coach remain inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave as authorities paused the international effort to replenish air tanks along the treacherous exit route.

Extracting everyone could take up to four days, but the initial success raised hopes that could be done.

"The operation went much better than expected," said Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn, who is overseeing the mission.

He told reporters the four rescued boys were taken to the hospital in the town of Chiang Rai, the provincial capital, for evaluation, and the next phase of the operation will resume after about 10-20 hours.

The names of the rescued boys were not released.

His announcement, at a news conference more than an hour after helicopters and ambulances were seen rushing from the cave area, drew cheers and applause.

Narongsak had dubbed Sunday to be "D-day" as the complicated effort was launched in the morning.

He said 13 foreign divers and five Thai navy SEALs were taking part in the key leg of the rescue: taking the boys from where they have been sheltering and through dark, tight and twisting passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents.

Two divers were to accompany each of the boys, all of whom have been learning to dive only since July 2, when the first searchers found them.

Cave rescue experts consider an underwater escape to be a last resort, especially with people untrained in diving.

The death Friday of a former Thai navy SEAL, Saman Gunan, underscored the risks. The diver, the first fatality of the rescue effort, was working in a volunteer capacity and died on a mission to place oxygen canisters along the route.

But Narongsak said earlier that recent mild weather and falling water levels had created optimal conditions for an underwater evacuation. Those conditions won't last if the rain resumes, he said.

After the four boys were removed from the cave, heavy rain started falling.

The potential for rising water and the dwindling oxygen levels added to the urgency of getting the team out. Efforts to pump water out of the cave have been set back by heavy downpours.

The next phase of the operation would start sometime Monday after rescue teams replenish the supply of oxygen tanks along the route.

On Sunday night, Thai navy SEALs posted a celebratory note on their Facebook page, saying: "Have sweet dreams everyone. Good night. Hooyah."

Meanwhile Elon Musk's Space X rocket company has tested a "tiny kid-sized submarine" that could potentially help the children through the narrow, flooded cave passageways. A spokesman for Musk's Boring Co. tunneling unit, which has four engineers at the cave, said in an email Sunday that officials had requested the device. If the tests were successful, the sub would be placed on a 17-hour flight to Thailand. He posted a video of a diver testing the device in a pool.

President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday: "The U.S. is working very closely with the Government of Thailand to help get all of the children out of the cave and to safety. Very brave and talented people!"

Thailand pledges justice for Chinese victims of boat tragedy

A Chinese rescue team arrives at Chalong pier in Phuket in Phuket, Sunday, July 8. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Eileen Ng

Phuket (AP) — The Thai government pledged Sunday to ensure justice for Chinese victims of the tour boat that sank in a storm off the southern resort island of Phuket, killing 42 people and leaving another 14 missing.

Tourism Minister Weerasak Kowsurat said the government will "spare no one" as it seriously investigates the tragedy, one of the largest tourism-related disasters in Thailand since the 2004 tsunami that killed thousands.

Police were investigating whether the double-decker Phoenix dive boat had been inspected by marine officials as required before it set sail Thursday, Weerasak said. The Meteorological Department issued warnings for small ships not to go to sea that day but bigger boats like the Phoenix could sail after inspection.

The boat, with 105 people, including 93 tourists, capsized and sank after it was hit by 5-meter waves. Officials said all of the dead were Chinese comprising 13 children, 18 women and 10 men. The age and sex of another body wasn't known.

Tourism is a vital part of the Thai economy, with the World Bank estimating the Southeast Asian nation generates about 12 percent of its gross domestic product from tourism receipts. Chinese tourists are a key driver of the industry, accounting for 9.8 million of the record 35.38 million tourists to visit the country last year.

Local police chief Sorasak Yenprem said the captain of the Phoenix has been charged with "careless conduct leading to death" and could face more than three years in jail.

He said the captain of another boat that capsized Thursday and the manager of a travel agency that chartered the boat have also been charged for being careless leading to injuries. All the passengers from the second ship were rescued.

"We will ensure that all those responsible for this tragic incident are brought to justice," Weerasak said. He and other officials at the news conference then stood up and bowed to apologize to the victims and their families.

The government will strengthen security regulations to prevent future accidents and intensify efforts to restore trust and confidence in its tourism sector, he added.

Officials said families of each victim could receive up to 1.4 million Thai baht in compensation.

The disaster didn't appear to deter visitors, with dozens of Western and Chinese tourists leaving on boats Sunday for diving and cruise trips despite a warning issued by the Meteorological Department for smaller ships not to go to sea.

Yi Mao Ling, a 63-year-old tourist from China's Kunming city, said he was perplexed by the tragedy as he walked up to a boat with his children and grandchildren for an island trip.

"It makes me feel uncomfortable but we can go. I am not worried," he told The Associated Press.

Thai navy official Rear Adm. Charoenpol Kumrasi said more than 30 divers were involved in an operation Sunday to flip the sunken Phoenix to retrieve a body trapped underneath. He said they will need more time and equipment to raise the wreckage, which is sitting some 45 meters beneath the surface.

The search for the missing would also continue, he said, with divers and helicopters searching areas around the site and the nearby sea. Nearly a dozen Chinese divers were taking part in the search.

A Chinese survivor related his ordeal to China's CGTN television.

"The waves were really high and stormy; they were hitting the boat constantly. I was with my sister, brother and two friends from school. All of them are dead. I feel terrible," Huang Jun Siong said. "I only broke my hand. I was climbing up to the top of the boat but stuff was flying around everywhere. A big piece of glass hit me."

Many Chinese have volunteered their services at the hospital to help distraught relatives.

"Even though we are doctors, in this situation, it makes us feel that life is so fragile," said Fang Han Yi, a medical student from China's Wuhan city, who volunteered at the hospital Saturday.

She was in Bangkok with her two friends but said they abandoned their holiday plans and flew to Phuket to help out. She said one of the most heartbreaking scenes at the hospital Saturday were that of four Chinese students who survived the ordeal but their friend perished.

The five, from China's Guangdong province, just graduated from high school and came to Phuket to celebrate, she said.

"Two of the boys held each other so tight and cried uncontrollably," Fang said. "We cried with them."

PM orders compensation for farms affected by Tham Luang water discharge


Bangkok - The Prime Minister has ordered relevant units to provide timely compensation and assistance to farmers who sacrificed their farmland to create retention areas for water pumped out of Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province.

Gen. Prayut also instructed state officials to distribute money and seedlings to the affected farmers and to take action to improve soil condition after the water subsides.

The Prime Minister said on Sunday thanked the farmers for their sacrifice which helped rescuers locate the missing youths trapped in the cave and plan ways to save their lives.

Local agriculture officials will be assessing the damage, and providing compensation at a rate of 1,113 to 1,690 baht per 1,600 square meters (one rai) according to the type of farm. Affected farmers can in the meantime report their damage to officials to arrange an inspection. It is expected the compensation plan will reach a conclusion by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, additional financial compensation may be provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives which will be transferred directly to farmers' bank accounts should the initial amount be considered insufficient.

Officials will also be assisting farmers in their farming practices after the water subsides, introducing the use of technology, supporting the growth of seedlings for new crops, and restoring the condition of the soil.

Stateless people to get citizenship through DNA tests



Yala - The Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) is collecting DNA samples to help ‘stateless’ people get Thai citizenship.

Supanat Sirantawineti, Secretary General of the SBPAC, said his agency will take DNA samples in Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, Satun, and Songkhla provinces. The tests will be conducted by the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS) to prove the ethnicity of stateless people and help them acquire citizenship.

Without citizenship, individuals are deprived of their rights to healthcare, education, employment, and other basic welfare benefits provided by the government.

Stateless people who can’t provide enough proof to be granted citizenship must have their DNA tested, added Supanat.

He says the main cause of statelessness is parents’ failure to report the births of their children, which could stem from their lack of understanding of the law and procedures required.

Update July 7- 8 , 2018

Search resumes for 23 missing tourists boat tragedy

Divers check oxygen tanks on a boat at Chalong pier in Phuket as they prepare to recover bodies of passengers of a capsized tourist boat, Saturday, July 7. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Vincent Thian

Phuket (AP) — Divers who entered the wreck of a tour boat that sank in a storm off the southern resort island of Phuket described heart-breaking scenes of bodies of children found in the arms of their mothers, as a search resumed Saturday for some 23 mostly Chinese tourists missing.

The death toll from Thursday's tragedy hit 33, all of them Chinese nationals, in Thai tourism's biggest disaster in years.

"It's very difficult to see ... it's traumatic, it's tragic but the best thing to do, our job as divers, is to bring back the bodies to their families," diver Philip Entremont told reporters before resuming the search Saturday.

The boat, with 105 people, including 93 tourists, capsized and sank after it was hit by 5-meter high waves.

The death toll jumped Friday after the navy sent divers to the wreck. In images shortly after the sinking, rescued people sat in large rubber life rafts surrounded by churning seas.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha expressed his "sympathies and deepest condolences" to the families of the dead. The government will "exert all efforts to find those still missing and provide support to all survivors of this tragic event," he said in a statement.

Reports in the media said police charged the owner and captain of the stricken ship with carelessness causing death and injury.

Chinese Ambassador Lyu Jian had an "emergency conversation" by phone with Thai Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, the Chinese Embassy said in a statement. It quoted the envoy calling on Thailand to quickly mobilize an intensive search for the missing and "to tend and make appropriate arrangements for the rescued Chinese tourists, treat and cure the injured and receive family members of the Chinese tourists involved."

Lyu said he hoped the cause of the capsizing would be quickly ascertained and asked Somkid to have the relevant Thai agencies closely cooperate with China on the matter.

Fatal accidents among foreign tourists at Thai beaches are not unusual, but normally involve drownings in unsafe swimming areas or accidents involving smaller boats.

Officials were rushing to cope with some of the logistics of the aftermath of the sinking. At the request of Phuket's governor, the Phuket Tourist Association was seeking 80 volunteer Chinese language translators to assist the outgoing Chinese passengers at the provincial airport.

Many of the victims had been on group tours, booked in Phuket and China.

The government of the eastern Chinese city of Haining in Zhejiang province said on its official microblog account that it received a distress alert sent by phone text message from the head of the Haining Haipai Furniture Co. Ltd., from Thailand on Friday morning.

It said that 37 of the furniture company's employees and family members had traveled together to Phuket and that on July 5 at around 5 p.m. they encountered the "biggest storm in five years" and they sought the government's help. The group had booked their tours to the islands online on their own, said the posting.

A Chinese tour operator based in the central province of Hunan said on its official Sina Weibo account that three travelers it had booked were missing.

Lazy Cat Travel said it had sent personnel to Phuket to help out its clients, who also included 35 passengers who had to be rescued from another boat that it had chartered that ran into trouble on Thursday. It said that second boat had lost power after being swamped by waves. All on board were returned safely to shore.

Rescuers fight water and oxygen levels in cave as diver dies

The body of Saman Gunan, a former Thai navy SEAL who died during an overnight mission, is carried during a repatriation and religious rites ceremony at Chiang Rai Airport in northern Thailand Friday, July 6. (AP Photo)

Tassanee Vejpongsa and Kaweewit Kaewjinda

Mae Sai (AP) — The rescuers trying to help a youth soccer team stranded in a cave suffered a disheartening loss Friday with the death of a former Thai Navy SEAL diving in the flooded passageways to deliver supplies, as authorities raced against worsening weather and lessening oxygen where the 12 boys and their coach have been trapped for two weeks.

"We can no longer wait for all conditions (to be ready) because circumstances are pressuring us," Thai SEAL commander Rear Adm. Arpakorn Yookongkaew told a news conference. "We originally thought the boys can stay safe inside the cave for quite some time, but circumstances have changed. We have limited amount of time."

Oxygen levels are decreasing because of the amount of workers inside the cave and workers were trying to run an oxygen line into the chambers in addition to the oxygen canisters used by divers, Chiang Rai province Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn had said late Thursday.

A senior army commander, Maj. Gen. Chalongchai Chaiyakam, said the most pressing mission is the oxygen line. It is tied to a telephone line to provide a channel of communication for the kids, who are stuck deep in the complex but are being looked after by four SEALs, including a medic.

Authorities have been racing to pump out water from the cave before more storms raise the water level again. At this time though, diving is the only possible method of escape, even though cave rescue experts warn it is extremely dangerous even for those with experience.

The death of former Thai navy SEAL Saman Gunan underscored those risks. The diver, the first fatality of the rescue effort, was working in a volunteer capacity and died during an overnight mission in which he was placing oxygen canisters along the route divers use to reach the children, Arpakorn said.

The strategically placed canisters allow divers to stay underwater for longer during what is about a five-hour trip to reach the stranded team.

While underwater, the rescuer passed out and efforts to resuscitate him failed, Arpakorn said. Some officials said his collapse was due to his oxygen supply running out, but the cause of his collapse was not confirmed.

"Despite this, we will continue until we accomplish our mission," Arpakorn said.

The dramatic rescue efforts have garnered international attention, perhaps most notably at soccer's most widely watched event, the World Cup, being played in Russia. Players from teams including England and Sweden have recorded good luck video messages for the trapped boys, and FIFA has invited the 13 to the World Cup final should they be rescued in time and are healthy enough to travel.

The effort has also brought international assistance including U.S. military personnel and the British cave-divers who first found the boys on Monday. The latest was Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind the Tesla automobile and the SpaceX rocket company, who said he would send engineers to help. One of his enterprises is Boring Co, which digs tunnels for advanced transport systems and has advanced ground-penetrating radar. Musk also brainstormed on Twitter about possible technology for a safe evacuation, suggesting that an air tunnel constructed with soft tubing like a Bouncy Castle could provide a flexible passage out.

Army patrol plane crashes in Mae Hong Son



Mae Hong Son - Three soldiers of the Royal Thai Army perished and one was injured, when their patrol plane crashed in Huay Pa sub-district of Mae Hong Son province on Thursday.

Army Region 3 Commander Lt Gen Wijak Siribansop ordered that a second patrol plane be sent up to search for the downed aircraft immediately following the crash, with the second plane finding it in Baan Huay Pueng or Huay Pa sub-district in Muang district of Mae Hong Son. Personnel from Army Infantry 17 were dispatched to the crash site, which is two kilometers from the nearest village. They found Lt Naruphol Pukthong, Lt Waroj Plangkratok and Lt Kemrach Duangkaeo deceased at the scene and Sgt Maj 1st Class Nutchanant Kuankaeo with broken bones but still able to communicate. The survivor was sent to Maharaj Chiang Mai Hospital while the three bodies are awaiting identity confirmation at the crash site.

The crash took place during a routine patrol and was initially attributed to inclement weather. Further investigation will take place to uncover a definite reason for the crash.

BTS offers refunds and additional trips to those affected by delays


Bangkok - Commuters affected by long delays of the BTS Skytrain between June 25 to 27 are now eligible for refunds or additional travel.

President of Bangkok Mass Transit System Plc (BTS) Keeree Kanjanapas announced that single trip customers who decided against taking the BTS due to delays in June will be allowed to use their tickets within 14 days of their purchase or request a refund by July 31.

All charge card users affected by the delays can request that up to three additional trips be added to their cards, and users of 30 day passes can request an additional six trips. The requests can be made at BTS booths between July 7 and 31 for use within 45 days of the addition.

The BTS president voiced confidence the compensation is merited by the long delays and noted it would cost the operator tens of millions of baht.

A communication system imported from abroad was due to arrive Friday and be installed in time to stabilize services for this weekend.

Update July 6 , 2018

49 missing as boat overturns in Andaman sea

Rescued tourists from a boat that sank are helped onto a pier Thursday, July 5, on the island of Phuket. (Thailand Royal Police via AP)

Phuket (AP) — A boat carrying dozens of Chinese tourists overturned Thursday in rough seas off southern Thailand and 49 passengers were unaccounted for, an official said.

Strong winds were still blowing as searchers looked for the missing people off the tourist island of Phuket in the Andaman Sea.

Phuket Gov. Norraphat Plodthong said 48 passengers were rescued from the boat, with 49 unaccounted for.

Police previously said 90 people had been rescued from the boat and just seven were missing. The reason for the discrepancy was not clear.

Another boat also overturned off Phuket on Thursday. Officials said the 39 Chinese and European tourists who were forced to abandon that boat were rescued and have returned to land.

Local media showed photos of rescued people in large rubber life rafts at sea, with fishing boats and churning water in the background. The images also showed survivors being lifted from the rafts and sitting in life jackets amid ropes on the deck of what appears to be a fishing trawler.

Phuket officials had earlier issued a warning of severe weather until Tuesday, including heavy rain and winds.

"All agencies are co-operating in their search at this time," Norraphat said. "We have given warnings ... but the winds are strong."

He said officials would consider whether to ban boats from going to sea during strong winds.

A late report from the Thai PBS television station said the body of a man wearing a life jacket from the larger vessel had been recovered.

Authorities described him as Chinese and 35-40 years of age. They said they don't know the nationalities of the other missing people, but those who had been rescued were mostly Chinese on group tours.

The station also reported that 12 boats with 263 passengers in all had been forced by the weather to stay docked at Racha island, a popular diving spot about an hour's boat ride from Phuket.

They said they were providing food, shelter and water to the people, and if the weather did not clear, larger boats belonging to the navy would be sent to retrieve them.

Rescuers race to drain water inside cave before rains

International rescuers prepare to enter the cave where the young soccer team and their coach are trapped by flood waters, Thursday, July 5, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Tassanee Vejpongsa

Mae Sai (AP) — With more rain coming, rescuers are racing to pump out water from the flooded cave before they can extract 12 boys and their soccer coach with minimum risk, officials said Thursday.

A firefighter who has been working on draining the water said parts of a passage leading to the chamber where the group was found Monday was still flooded to its ceiling, making diving the only way out.

"What we worry most is the weather," Chiang Rai provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn told reporters. "We can't risk having the flood back into the cave."

The boys, although skinny, have been described as in good health. Authorities have said the soccer players are being looked after by Thai navy SEALs, including medics, staying with them inside the cave.

Narongsak said he asked the SEALs in charge of extraction plans to estimate what sort of a risk would be involved to take them out and "what kind of readiness we can have today and decide if we can take that chance." He said the 13 may not be extracted at the same time, depending on their condition. They've practiced wearing diving masks and breathing, in preparation for the possibility they may have to dive.

"This morning, I have asked for 13 sets of (diving) equipment to be prepared and checked the equipment lists and place them inside (the cave) in case we have to bring them out in this condition with less than 100 percent readiness," he said.

Officials prefer to get the boys out as soon as possible because heavy rain expected by Saturday almost surely will raise water levels again in the cave, making passage in some areas even more difficult, if not impossible.

They are hoping that an upgraded draining effort can lower the water in an area where it is still at or near the ceiling. The idea is to get some headroom so the boys would not be reliant on scuba apparatus for a long stretch and could keep their heads above water.

The navy has released videos of the boys, showing them smiling and interacting with the personnel sent into the cave to bring supplies, treat their injuries and keep them company.

One Thai navy SEAL team member who spent time with the boys said the young soccer players "were always asking about the World Cup." ''I told them that all the big teams had gone home," the navy SEAL member said.

Suvarnabhumi Airport denies charging for use of Premium Lanes


Bangkok - Executives of Suvarnabumi Airport have assured the public that no special payments have been demanded for Premium Lane passes, from those who want to bypass long immigration queues.

Deputy Director of Suvarnabhumi Airport, Maj Kamol Wongsomboon, who is currently acting director of the airport on behalf of Airports of Thailand (AoT), said no extra payments have been requested for Premium Lane passes, explaining that AoT is only responsible for inspecting the sales, which are handled by Airline Operators Committee (AOC). He indicated that all travelers with proper passports can use the Premium Lane, which is available in zones 2 and 3 on the fourth floor of the passenger terminal.

Maj Kamol acknowledged that travelers are sometimes subjected to long lines as Suvarnabhumi Airport is currently only able to handle 45 million passengers a year, despite 60 million arriving on average. More officials and facilities have been added to alleviate the situation.

Premium Lanes were created under an agreement between AOC and Immigration Police in line with tourism policy. First and business class passengers are provided with access to the lanes when traveling out of Thailand. AOC produces and manages the sale of Premium Lane passes.

Rice Department prepares assistance for farms flooded in Luang Cave rescue operation


Chiang Rai - The Department of Rice has prepared a rehabilitation plan for farms impacted by the drainage of Luang Cave to rescue a local boys' football team that became trapped on June 23.

Deputy Director-General of the Department of Rice, Suwat Jiarakongmun, said a disaster monitoring center of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives has recorded the damage sustained by farms affected by the partial drainage of the cave, to save the lives of the stranded Moo Pa Academy youth football team within. The farms are located in three sub-districts of Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai and are owned by over 100 farmers. An estimated 1,300 rai of land has been badly affected, with government agents now providing guidance to farmers on technological tools they can employ once waters subside. The district agriculture office is monitoring the situation closely and will survey needed assistance.

Several strains of rice have been prepared for the benefit of the affected farmers so that they may replace their lost crops. Growers are being advised to wait for rains to cleanse their land once waters drain out, and to aerate fields before planting new crops.

Update July 5 , 2018

Officials say boys may be taken out of cave in stages

In this July 3 photo, one of the young boys smiles as Thai Navy SEAL medics help the children inside the cave in Mae Sai, northern Thailand. (Royal Thai Navy Facebook Page via AP)

Tassanee Vejpongsa

Mae Sai (AP) — An official overseeing the rescue operation of a soccer team trapped in a flooded cave said the 12 boys and their coach may not all be extracted at the same time depending on their health.

Chiang Rai provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said Wednesday that "all 13 may not come out at the same time. If the condition is right and if that person is ready 100 percent, he can come out." He said authorities will evaluate their readiness each day and if there is any risk will not proceed.

The teammates and their coach were seen in the latest video sitting with Thai navy SEALs in the dark cave, their skinny faces illuminated by a flashlight. The boys, many wrapped in foil warming blankets, take turns introducing themselves, pressing their hands together in a traditional Thai greeting and saying their names and that they are healthy.

Narongsak said that the boys have been practicing wearing diving masks and breathing, but he doesn't believe they have attempted any practice dives.

Authorities said the boys, who had also been shown Tuesday in a video shot by the British diver who discovered them, were being looked after by seven members of the Thai navy SEALs, including medics, who were staying with them inside the cave. They were mostly in stable condition and have received high-protein drinks.

In all of the videos, the boys appeared in good spirits. In the most recent video, a navy SEAL is shown treating minor cuts on the feet and legs of the boys with antibiotic ointment. Several of the boys are seen smiling as they interact with the navy SEAL, who cracks jokes.

Seeing the boys has boosted the mood of their family members, and officials are working to install an internet cable to the cave so that parents can talk to their children.

Kian Kamluang, whose 16-year-old son, Pornchai, is in the cave, said she had thought there was a 50 percent chance that her son would be found.

"It's like he has been given a new life," she said, adding that she'll never let her son go into a cave or near water again.

Those waiting for the boys to come out included a group of students who are friends with some of the boys trapped inside, who sang a song in front of the entrance to show their support.

Several religious figures have also shown up, the most popular being a famous Buddhist monk, Kruba Boonchum, who when he first visited the scene had predicted that the boys would be found this week.

He returned Wednesday to offer prayers for their safe rescue, and as measure of the respect in which he was held, was allowed access to the cave, which is generally off-limits to outsiders.

SEAL commander Rear Adm. Arpakorn Yookongkaew said that there was no rush to bring the group out of the cave, since they're safe where they are. The current flooding situation means the boys would have to dive, which rescue experts have said could be extremely dangerous.

While efforts to pump out floodwaters are continuing, some officials have indicated that heavy rains forecast for this weekend could force them to decide the boys should swim and dive out using the same complicated route of narrow passageways through which their rescuers entered.

Authorities said they were still exploring other options, such as scouring the mountainside for other ways into the cave and finding faster ways to pump water from the cave.

Cave rescue experts have said it could be safest to simply supply the boys where they are for now, and wait for the water to go down. That could take months, however, given that Thailand's rainy season typically lasts through October.

Experienced divers are wary of taking out the boys through the dark and dangerous waters still in the cave, especially since they are untrained.

"We are talking kilometers of transport under the water with zero visibility," said Claus Rasmusen, a certified cave diving instructor based in Thailand who has been helping Thai SEAL team with logistics. "It's difficult."

He said it was awkward, but possible, to teach them minimal skills.

"Nobody will teach anyone a full cave course, but trying to get them comfortable with masks, with the breathing, (is) completely different," he said. "Creating an environment that can make them safely get away, that's feasible."

Public advised against donating to cave rescue mission


Chiang Rai - Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn has urged people not to make contributions to cave rescue mission because there are already enough supplies of food and essential items to support the rescue of 12 boys and their football coach.

In his capacity as commander of the Command Centre for the People Missing at Tham Luang Khun Nam Nang Non Cave, Narongsak said the rescue team has been given continuous support by His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn and other members of the Royal Family.

They have given items, tools and manpower needed to continue the rescue effort. Four canteens, courtesy of His Majesty the King, have also been set up around the cave to provide hot meals to everyone.

Those taking part in the rescue effort have expressed their gratitude towards His Majesty the King and the Thai Royal Family for their gracious contributions. The governor further stated that anyone found pleading for donations will be prosecuted under the law.

Fluctuations in the Baht have little impact on economy


Bangkok - The Bank of Thailand (BoT) is showing no concerns over the fluctuations of the Thai Baht as Thailand holds sufficient foreign reserves to safeguard the economy against the occasional outflow of foreign capital.

Even though the Thai Baht has been fluctuating due to monetary policy changes in the UK, the United States and Europe, there has been no indication from the BoT that there is a significant impact on the economy. Both private and public debt remains low despite the fluctuations.

Meanwhile, the Monetary Policy Committee has revised this year’s economic growth up from 4.1% to 4.4% given tourism and export growth. To further support the forecast, the Cabinet has also agreed to maintain the VAT rate at 7%.

The Ministry of Commerce has also forecast that the economy in the second half of this year will improve. Prices of cassava and corn feed will continue to rise although prices of certain farm goods remain low.

Government campaigns for alcohol break during Buddhist Lent


Bangkok - The government has called on people to refrain from drinking alcohol during the three-month Buddhist Lent.

Before the cabinet meeting started on Tuesday (July 3) at Government House, Bangkok, the Deputy Prime Minister, Gen. Chatchai Sarikulya, the Public Health Minister, Dr. Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, the Director-General of the Department of Disease Control, Dr. Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, and the Manager of ThaiHealth, Dr. Supreeda Adulyanon, led a team of staff to meet the Prime Minister, Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, to present a campaign to promote alcohol abstinence during the Buddhist Lent this year.

Dr. Piyasakol said a cabinet resolution in 2008 made Buddhist Lent Day a national no-alcohol day. He said alcohol abstinence is considered a worthy act, as it keeps people in good health and complies with the Buddhist principle.

The Prime Minister urged members of the public to join this alcohol-free campaign throughout the Lent period.

Update July 4 , 2018

Forecast of heavy rain could complicate cave rescue

Thai rescue teams walk inside the cave complex where 12 boys and their soccer coach were found Monday, July 2 in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province. (Tham Luang Rescue Operation Center via AP)

Tassanee Vejpongsa

Mae Sai (AP) — Heavy rains forecast for northern Thailand could worsen flooding in the cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach are waiting to be extracted by rescuers, possibly forcing authorities to have them swim out through a narrow, underwater passage in the cavern, a top official said Tuesday.

The 13, who disappeared when flooding trapped them in the cave they were exploring on June 23 after a soccer game, were found by rescue divers late Monday night in the cavern in northern Chiang Rai province during a desperate search. The effort drew international help and has riveted Thailand.

The boys, aged 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach were described as healthy and being looked after by seven members of the Thai navy SEALs, including medics, who were staying with them inside the cave. They were mostly in stable condition and have received high-protein drinks.

While efforts to pump out floodwaters are continuing, it's clear that some areas of the sprawling cavern cannot be drained, said Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda. In order to get them out ahead of the bad weather forecast for later in the week, they might need to use diving gear while being guided by professional divers, he said.

Anupong said the boys would be brought out via the same complicated route through which their rescuers entered, and he conceded that if something went awry, it could be disastrous.

"Diving is not easy. For people who have never done it, it will be difficult, unlike diving in a swimming pool, because the cave's features have small channels," he said. "If something happens midway, it could be life-threatening."

Video released by the Thai navy showed the boys in their soccer uniforms sitting in a dry area inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave above the water as a light held by a rescuer was shone on their faces.

Cave rescue experts have said it could be safer to simply supply them where they are for now, rather than trying to have the boys dive out. That could take months, however, given that Thailand's rainy season typically lasts through October.

SEAL commander Rear Adm. Arpakorn Yookongkaew said there was no rush to bring them out, since they're safe where they are.

A doctor and a nurse were with them in the cave.

"We have given the boys food, starting from easily digested and high-powered food with enough minerals," Arpakorn told a news conference.

Having them dive out of the cave was one of several options being considered, "but if we are using this plan, we have to be certain that it will work and have to have a drill to make sure that it's 100 percent safe," he said.

Chiang Rai provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said the health of the boys and coach were checked using a field assessment in which red is critical condition, yellow is serious and green is stable.

"We found that most of the boys are in green condition," he said. "Maybe some of the boys have injuries or light injuries and would be categorized as yellow condition. But no one is in red condition."

Relatives keeping vigil at the mouth of the cave since the ordeal began rejoiced at the news that their boys and their coach had been found.

"I want to give him a hug. I miss him very much," said Tham Chanthawong, an aunt of the coach. "In these 10 days, how many million seconds have there been? I've missed him every second."

Cave diver Ben Reymenants, part of the team assisting the rescue effort, told NBC's "Today" show that he was "very surprised obviously that they are all alive and actually mentally also healthy."

While they appear responsive, "they are very weak and very skinny," he added.

Reymenants said the easiest option would be to "keep pumping the water out of the cave. They need another 3 or 4 feet so they can literally float them out with life jackets."

"But time is not on their side," he noted, because of the heavy rain forecast.

He added that two Thai navy doctors have volunteered to stay with them for months, if needed.

The British Cave Rescue Council, which has members taking part in the operation, said in a statement that "although water levels have dropped, the diving conditions remain difficult and any attempt to dive the boys and their coach out will not be taken lightly because there are significant technical challenges and risks to consider."

Joining the British are other experts from around the world and teams from the U.S., Australia, China and elsewhere.

Authorities said efforts would continue outside the cave, where teams have been scouring the mountainside for other entrances to the caverns. Several fissures have been found and teams have explored some, although so far, none has led to the trapped boys.

British divers bring experience to cave rescue drama

British divers Richard Stanton, left, and John Volanthen arrive in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, in northern Thailand, Tuesday, July 3. (AP Photo)

Danica Kirka

London (AP) — When authorities were assembling a group of rescuers to search for the soccer team lost in a flooded cave, one of their first calls went to a retired firefighter and an IT consultant in England.

Rick Stanton and John Volanthen were the first to reach the 12 boys and their coach inside the Luang Nang Non Cave on Monday.

It is their voices that can be heard talking to the boys and giving them calm reassurance in a dramatic video released by the Thai navy. They are working with Thai navy SEALs, who are leading the rescue operation.

Stanton, the retired firefighter from Coventry, and Volanthen, who does IT consulting work in Bristol, have years of experience in cave rescues and have helped map the Luang Nang Non Cave.

"Brits are probably one of the best cave-diving teams," said Dinko Novosel, head of the European Cave Rescue Commission, even before the search mission proved successful.

Chris Jewell, a member of the British Cave Rescue Council, confirmed that the divers on the video were Stanton and Volanthen.

It's not the first time they have lent their expertise to an international rescue effort.

Stanton, who was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, or MBE, in 2012, previously described his most memorable lifesaving effort as the 2004 rescue of six soldiers trapped by rising floodwaters in Mexico.

"They were trapped for nine days, and we had to teach a few of them to dive through a considerable length of passage to get them out," Stanton told the Coventry Telegraph newspaper in 2012. "It took about nine hours to get them all out."

Stanton also tried to rescue French cave explorer Eric Establie in 2010. Establie's remains were discovered in southern France after a dramatic eight-day operation.

Alex Daw, a West Midlands Fire Service watch commander who supervised Stanton for six years, said his experience as a firefighter serves him well. Besides that, Stanton also is known as a tinkerer — a technician always making sure his equipment will help him go "farther, further under water, in the dark."

"If the kids have got someone there like him, they're safe," Daw said without hesitation. "He's cool, calm and collected."

Volanthen was Stanton's partner on the French rescue attempt.

Volanthen told the Sunday Times in 2013 that cave diving is not the pursuit of those who crave thrills.

"The flight response now isn't always appropriate," he said. "Panic and adrenaline are great in certain situations, but not in cave-diving. The last thing you want is any adrenaline whatsoever."

Both men are members of the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue team. A third Briton, Robert Harper, is working with them in Thailand after authorities here contacted the British Cave Rescue Council for help when the boys disappeared June 23.

The British divers left London on June 26 with special rescue equipment, including radios designed to work in caves.

British cavers have helped survey and catalog many caves in Thailand because there are only a few people with such experience in the country, the council said in a statement last week.

"Many British cavers, including specialist cave divers, active on such expeditions, also serve as volunteers in cave rescue teams across Britain and Ireland and bring with them valuable knowledge of the layout of overseas cave systems," the council said.

The euphoria of finding the soccer team and their coach alive has quickly turned to the sober reality of how to extract them from the cave. Heavy rains are forecast, and that could worsen the flooding in the cavern, possibly forcing authorities to have them swim out through a narrow, underwater passage.

Gary Mitchell, the assistant vice chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council, said that helping the boys dive out could take time, particularly since they are assumed to have no diving experience and because they will be in a weakened state.

"They may start to dive them out in small batches into small, into other chambers, other pockets of air, and do that over a staggered period of time," he told the Associated Press. "Obviously, the biggest risk really is current rainfall. If it keeps raining or starts to rain and water levels rise then there's a bit more immediacy required."

Drilling an opening would be a problem because of the need for determining with pinpoint accuracy where they are inside the cave. While stressing that the Thai military is in charge, Mitchell believes they are working under the assumption that the group is about 800 meters to a kilometer below the surface — meaning the need to drill through solid rock.

"Drilling from the top of a jungle mountain ridge is really tricky," he said.

Rescuers also have been searching for a fissure that might lead to a shaft that could be a kind of "back door" to where the soccer team is sheltered. So far, they have not found one that goes far enough.

For Stanton, such curiosity about finding the right path in a cave seems to motivate him.

He once told the online site Divernet: "I'm only interested in the cave, where it's going and how it ends. I suppose that's what motivates me - I don't know why, but that's it."

Second Govt-political parties meeting scheduled for September

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.


Bangkok - The government will meet political parties again in September, assuring all sides of its intention to consider all proposals in regard to pre- and post-election activities.

According to Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, his administration is open to suggestions and has been accepting feedback from all sectors of society since it took office in 2014.

He said that the much-expected general election will be held in the most transparent manner to ensure fairness and a smooth transition.

Addressing concerns about prerequisite procedures leading up to the election, Gen Prayut said political parties will be given enough time for their election campaigns and other administrative tasks, while citing the need to maintain law and order as the main reason for keeping the political ban in place.

When asked if he wanted to continue his political career after the election, Gen Prayut said he hasn’t thought about it and is focused on his duties as prime minister for the time being.

NBTC lowers asking price in 1800 MHz auction


Bangkok - Thailand's National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) has decided to change certain requirements for its auctions to make the bidding more appealing to potential bidders.

Regarding the upcoming 1800 MHz auction, the NBTC committee has decided to issue nine 5 MHz licenses, instead of the fifteen it previously offered to bidders, in order to lower the asking price to 12.4 billion baht.

Last month’s 1800 MHz auction had to be canceled because the 3 major phone operators, AIS, True and Dtac, did not participate. The NBTC is positive phone service operators will take part in the new auction, expected to be held on Sunday, August 19.

Additionally, the 900 MHz bidding process will be held on Saturday of the same weekend. The NBTC will offer 5 MHz licenses to bidders but at a starting price of 35.9 billion baht. Both the 1800 and 900 MHz frequency bands can be used by 4G and 5G networks.

Update July 3 , 2018

Rescuers find missing boys and coach alive in cave

In this grab taken from video provided by the Thai Navy Seals, the 12 boys and their soccer coach are found in the flooded cave, Monday, July 2, some 10 days after they disappeared and touched off a desperate search that drew international help and captivated the nation. (Thai Navy Seal via AP)

Family members smile after hearing the news that the missing boys and their soccer coach have been found, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, Monday, July 2. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Tassanee Vejpongsa

Mae Sai (AP) — Rescuers found all 12 boys and their soccer coach alive deep inside the partially flooded cave in northern Thailand late Monday, more than a week after they disappeared and touched off a desperate search that drew international help and captivated the nation.

Video released early Tuesday by the Thai navy showed the boys in their soccer uniforms sitting on a dry area inside the cave above the water as a spotlight, apparently from a rescuer, illuminated their faces.

Chiang Rai provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said the 13 were in the process of being rescued, but he cautioned that they were not out of danger yet.

"We found them safe. But the operation isn't over," he said in comments broadcast nationwide, referring to the complicated process of extricating them.

Family members of the missing hugged each other as they cheered the news.

Aisha Wiboonrungrueng, the mother of 11-year-old Chanin Wiboonrungrueng, smiled and hugged her family as news of their discovery spread. She said she would cook her son a fried omelet, his favorite food, when he returns home.

Rescue divers had spent much of Monday making preparations for a final push to locate the lost soccer players, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach. They disappeared when flooding trapped them after entering the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai on June 23.

Narongsak said the divers located the missing about 300-400 meters past a section of the cave that was on higher ground and was thought to be where the team members and their coach may have taken shelter.

"When the medics have evaluated the kids to see if their health is in good condition, we will care for them until they have enough strength to move by themselves, and then we will evaluate the situation on bringing them out again later," Narongsak said.

In the 5-minute navy video, the boys are quiet as they sit on their haunches, legs bent in front of them. They are clad in the uniforms they apparently were wearing on the morning they disappeared in the cave.

"You are very strong," one of the rescuers says to them in English. One of them asks what day it is, and the rescuer responds, "Monday. Monday. You have been here — 10 days.

One of the boys, noticing the camera and hearing words they don't immediately understand, says in Thai, "Oh, they want to take a picture; tell him we're hungry. I haven't had anything to eat."

Then the boy breaks into simple English, saying, "Eat, eat, eat," to which another voice responds in Thai that he already told that to the rescuer.

Anmar Mirza, a leading American cave rescue expert, said many challenges remain for the rescuers. He said the primary decision is whether to try to evacuate the boys and their coach or to supply them in place.

"Supplying them on site may face challenges depending on how difficult the dives are," Mirza, coordinator of the U.S. National Cave Rescue Commission, said in an email. "Trying to take non-divers through a cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible, even if the dives are relatively easy. That also begets the question: If the dives are difficult then supply will be difficult, but the risk of trying to dive them out is also exponentially greater."

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha thanked the international experts and rescuers who helped locate the missing for their "tremendous efforts."

"The Royal Thai Government and the Thai people are grateful for this support and cooperation, and we all wish the team a safe and speedy recovery," Prayuth's office said in a statement.

Thai navy SEAL divers and rescue workers from other countries had made initial progress through a narrow passageway early Monday after passing through a key chamber on Sunday whose high, murky waters had previously blocked their progress.

Gov. Narongsak had said earlier the passageway goes upward in some places and downward in others and is very narrow, making it difficult for divers and their gear to fit through.

Divers had been stymied repeatedly by rising water that forced them to withdraw for safety reasons. When water levels fell Sunday, the divers went forward with a more methodical approach, deploying a rope line and extra oxygen supplies along the way.

The SEALs' Facebook page said that since Sunday night, the divers had reached a bend where the kilometer-long passage splits in two directions. The divers were aiming for a sandy chamber on higher ground in the cave.

Narongsak explained early Monday that fixing rope lines and deploying oxygen tanks along their route will allow the divers to operate.

In addition to the divers, teams have been working to pump out water as well as divert groundwater. Other efforts have focused on finding shafts on the mountainside that might serve as a back door to the blocked-off areas.

Teams have been combing the mountainside looking for fissure that might lead to such shafts. Several have been found and explorers have been able to descend into some.

Experts in cave rescues from around the world had gathered at the site. An official Australian group has followed a U.S. military team, British cave experts, Chinese lifesaving responders and several other volunteer groups from various countries.

"These are challenging conditions and there's a lot of consideration for safety as well. The environment outside is contributing to the environment inside," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Jessica Tait, part of a 30-member U.S. military team assisting in the search, referring to the rain that has been flooding the cave. "So I'd say, yeah, it's an accurate statement that it's challenging."

Fire breaks out at major seafood company


Samut Sakhon - A fire broke out at Thai Royal Frozen Food Co Ltd in Samut Sakhon province early on Monday. No deaths or injuries were initially reported.

The fire started at a building where a seafood-frying station is located. Samut Sakhon Governor Prapas Malakarn was at the scene to oversee the firefighting operation himself. Despite 20 fire trucks and a continuous effort to douse the inferno, the flames were difficult to control because of cooking oil and foam containers that were kept inside the building.

The damage has been estimated at more than 200 million baht.

The company is said to be one of the major seafood exporters in Thailand.

Office of Ombudsman addresses Airport Rail Link issues


Bangkok - The Office of the Ombudsman is scheduled to hold a meeting to ensure proper servicing of Bangkok’s Airport Rail Link, following issues of delays and passenger capacity.

Deputy Secretary-General Sa-ngad Pattawee led a team to inspect the operations of the commuter rail system, in response to complaints of insufficient carriage capacity during peak hours.

Sa-ngad revealed that incomplete maintenance, compounded by only six to seven out of the nine trains being operational, have made it difficult to accommodate the large number of commuters. He said his office will meet with the State Railway of Thailand and the Klongton Service Center to discuss proposals to be made to the Cabinet.

Govt holds forum to promote energy stability


Bangkok - The National Research Council of Thailand has held a forum to promote concerted efforts in energy research with commercial applications.

Deputy Prime Minister ACM Prajin Juntong spoke at the event, “CEO Forum: Electricity R&I Challenge in the 21st Century,” saying energy stability is one of the government’s main strategies for boosting economic prosperity. He asserted that energy security supports a competitive, value-added economy.

The government’s strategy aims to encourage the production and service sectors to add value through research and innovation, in order to boost the sectors’ growth rates from the current average of 5% per year. It also focuses on ensuring energy security by using technologies that are domestically available to produce a variety of energy sources to meet demand, reducing the Kingdom’s reliance on imports and becoming more environmentally friendly.

The forum also showcases innovations such as a reversible wind turbine, a reflector to illuminate roads, and equipment for safely repairing high-voltage power lines, without having to turn off the power supply.

Update July 2 , 2018

Divers with extra supplies advance in flooded cave passageway

A rescuer stands in front of the entrance to the flooded cave complex in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, Sunday, July 1. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Mae Sai (AP) — Rescue divers are advancing in the main passageway inside the flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 boys and their soccer coach have been missing more than a week.

Thai navy SEALs said in a Facebook post early Monday that divers since Sunday night had reached a bend where the kilometer-long passage splits in two directions.

The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach entered Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai province on June 23. Heavy rains that flooded key passages are believed to have trapped the soccer players and have thwarted their rescue.

The divers, supplied with rope and extra oxygen, are aiming for a sandy chamber on higher ground in the cave, where they hope the 13 were able to stay dry.

Rabies vaccines administered to 7 million pets and stray animals


Bangkok - More than seven million domestic and stray animals have received rabies vaccines since October 2017, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.

The Department of Livestock Development reports that a total of 7.042 million dogs and cats have received the vaccine and nearly 250,000 of them have been neutered.

In Thailand, there are about 10 million cats and dogs, of which 910,000 are registered.

Between January 1st and June 27th, 2018, fifty provinces were declared rabies-hit zones. As of July 1st, 33 provinces including Bangkok remain under rabies watch.

Rabies is a preventable viral disease affecting mammals, most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of many other illnesses, including fever, headaches, and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia. Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.

90% of foreign workers registered with Ministry of Labor


Bangkok - More than 1.2 million foreign workers registered with the Ministry of Labor before the registration process was closed on 30th June. Those who failed to register or update their records are now unable to work in Thailand.

Minister of Labor, Pol. Gen. Adul Saengsingkaew on Sunday summarized the registrations and requests from foreigners seeking permission to work in Thailand, saying 90% of them had registered with the ministry between 16th January and 30th June. Most of them were from Myanmar, followed by Cambodia and Lao, said the minister.

The minister thanked the governments of the three countries for their cooperation with Thailand in identifying the nationality of the workers. From 1st July 2018 onwards, the ministry will strictly inspect and arrest illegal foreign workers who will face a fine of 5,000 - 50,000 baht. They will also be deported and banned from working in Thailand for two years from the day that the punishment is imposed.

Employers who hire illegal foreign workers are subject to a fine of 10,000 - 100,000 baht per illegal foreign worker. Repeated offences are subject to imprisonment of up to one year or a fine of 50,000 - 200,000 baht and a ban on them hiring foreign workers for three years.

Kratom use spreads in Phuket

Vice Governor of Phuket, Sanit Sriwihokb.


Phuket - Kratom has become the most widely available illegal narcotic in Phuket despite efforts to suppress drug abuse, says an official.

The Vice Governor of Phuket, Sanit Sriwihok, said authorities have been working to tackle drug abuse on the island but there continues to be an increase in drug use, with Kratom now the most popular, followed by Ya Ba pills, crystal meth, and cannabis.

He said the province is now on high alert against the spread of heroin as there have been heroin-related arrests every month, including five cases in May 2018.

The vice governor added that officials from all related agencies have been instructed to be on high alert and implement drug prevention and suppression measures, as well as block the smuggling of drugs onto the island by land, sea, or air. This includes the prevention of drug smuggling in ordinary postal packages sent via private carriers.

Update June 30 -  July 1 , 2018

In song and prayer, Thais show solidarity with missing boys

In this image from video made available on Friday, June 29, a group of young children sit around candles and play a song at a school in Buriram, eastern Thailand, in support for the missing soccer team and their coach in a flooded cave in the north. (Lek Nai Tung Kwang school via AP)

Kaweewit Kaewjinda and Tassanee Vejpongsa

Mae Sai (AP) — It's a simple melody sung to the plucking of acoustic guitars by schoolchildren sitting around candles: "I beg the skies to show mercy and empathy/ My brothers are in Tham Luang Khun Nang Non/ Let them pass this danger, I beg."

The song is dedicated to events unfolding in a flooded mountain cave in northern Thailand, where 12 boys aged 11-16 and their soccer coach disappeared a week ago. It was written and performed by students at Lek Nai Tung Kwang school in Buriram province.

A rescuer makes her way down muddy steps past water pump hoses at the entrance to a cave complex where it's believed that 12 soccer team members and their coach went missing, Friday, June 29, 2018, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, in northern Thailand. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

The music video has played on national newscasts during round-the-clock coverage of the search and rescue operation at the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in far northern Chiang Rai province. It is part of an outpouring of hope, empathy and concern across nation for the boys, their families and the army of people working to bring them home.

"We're worried. Everybody wants to hear good news," said Keeta Wariburee, a teacher at the school that produced the video. "We want to help them, but if we went up there we'd probably just get in the way. So we're doing what we can by sending encouragement."

Soldiers carry a pump to help drain the rising flood water in a cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach have been missing in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, Friday, June 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Rescuers including elite Thai navy divers, a U.S. military team and British cave experts have been frustrated by incessant rain that has flooded the cave and made locating the boys more difficult. Despite efforts to drain the water, muddy floodwaters reached near the entrance of the cave while rescuers kept trying to find hidden shafts in the green mountainside to access the cavern. In a desperate move, officials dropped into the shafts care packages stuffed with food, beverages, a phone, a flashlight, candles, a lighter and a map of the cave.

Lamduan Mayula traveled to the cave from Payao province, where she owns a gift shop and also volunteers as a rescue worker. She and her friends have set up a kitchen and are handing out food to hungry workers.

Thai soldiers searching for the missing children and their coach march out of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, in northern Thailand on Friday, June 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

"I just feel like I have to do something. I can't be sitting at home and watching the news," she said. "And I will stay here until we and the boys and their coach can all go home together."

In signs of solidarity with the missing, students around Thailand have been organizing mass prayers and other events. They showed solidarity by sitting in rows to form the number 13 — the number of the missing. Some folded origami paper cranes marked with messages of support.

Muangthong United, one of the nation’s largest and most popular soccer teams, made a similar gesture, releasing a video in which players and staff stand in the middle of their stadium, holding hands in a circle around soccer balls forming the number 13.

Rescue personnel walk out of the entrance to a cave complex where it's believed that 12 soccer team members and their coach went missing, Thursday, June 28, 2018, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, in northern Thailand. A U.S. military team and British cave experts joined the rescue effort for 12 boys and their soccer coach missing for five days inside the cave being flooded by near-constant rains. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

In a post on his Facebook page this April, Eakapol Chantawong, the missing coach of the boys' Wild Boars soccer team, checked in at the stadium and wrote: "One day I have to bring my young players here."

A number of hashtags have taken off on social media, including ones that translate as "13 lives must survive," ''Sending encouragement to Tham Luang" and "Strangers whose faces we most want to see."

Relatives pray for missing young soccer team members and their coach in a cave during a rescue operation, Thursday, June 28, 2018, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Emotional drawings and pictures have been making the rounds as well. One shows rescuers in a dark cave with "13 Hope Don't Give Up" written on their oxygen tanks. Another displays the silhouettes of 12 boys and a man against the stalactites of a cave with the words: "Stay strong. We are coming." Another features the team riding on a large wild boar and says: "Wild Boars keep fighting."

Relatives hold fishing nets, as a symbol to fish out lost spirits inside cave, as a group of locals and relatives perform a ritual calling for those are missing at the entrance of the cave, Tuesday, June 26, 2018, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand. Electricians are extending a power line into a flooded cave in northern Thailand to help the search and rescue efforts for 12 boys and their soccer coach stranded three nights in the sprawling caverns and cut off by rising water. (AP Photo/Tassanee Vejpongsa)

Keeta, the teacher, said the popularity of his students' song was a sign of the nation's common purpose.

"It reveals one thing, which is Thai society, in tough times, we never abandon each other," he said. "But it would be even better if the kids are found."

Or as his students' song ends: "Let the skies show us the path and clear up/ Let this group of friends pass this danger/ To quickly go home for safety to all."

Ice factory in Nan faces closure order after ammonia leaks


Nan - An ice factory in the northern province of Nan has been ordered to close for 30 days, following ammonia leaks that have posed a danger to its workers and nearby residents.

Officials have rushed to the factory in Du Tai subdistrict to bring the situation under control. Despite their efforts, the pungent gas has spread extensively, leading to factory employees and villagers, including a two-month old baby, being taken to hospital with chest pains and breathing difficulties. Ammonia leaks have also caused the deaths of trees, canal fish and village pets in a 100-meter radius.

A 66-year-old villager said more than 60 households have been affected by the incident and many of them have suffered nausea, and skin and eye irritations. She disclosed the factory was also responsible for ammonia leaks in 2013, adding that it often discharged untreated water and dumped waste into the community sewers at night.

Inspections by military officers and personnel from the provincial offices of Industry, Public Health, Natural Resources and the Environment, and Disaster Prevention and Mitigation found that the ammonia pipe of the ice making system had cracked, causing the gas to leak. The ammonia dilution process is ongoing. The factory has been told to address the problems during the 30-day operation suspension order.

AOT to expand airport passenger and cargo capacities

AOT President Nitinai Sirismatthakarn.


Bangkok - State-run Airports of Thailand (AOT) Public Company Limited is preparing to expand cargo capacity at six airports to accommodate the growing e-commerce sector and enable Thailand to be a regional hub for air transportation.

AOT President Nitinai Sirismatthakarn said that during the first eight months of fiscal year 2018 between October 2017 and May this year, AOT airports handled over 580,000 flights, an increase of 6.17%. The number consists of over 300,000 international flights, an increase on the same period last year of 12.63%, and over 270,000 domestic flights, increasing slightly by 0.24%. The flights serviced up to 95 million passengers, an increase of almost 10%. Business profits in the first six months rose for a fourth consecutive year to 13.4 billion baht.

Nitinai added that the second phase expansion project at Suvarnabhumi International Airport will open its initial terminal by 2020. The second terminal, which will accommodate an additional 30 million passengers per year, will begin construction next year and be completed in 2021.

Meanwhile, the construction of a multi-purpose building for international travelers at Don Muang Airport is expected to be completed in the next eight months. AOT’s expansion plans for its six airports will enable it to accommodate up to 185 million passengers in 2022, from the current 100 million.

In addition, AOT plans on expanding its air cargo business to accommodate the growing e-commerce business. Currently, AOT’s six airports can accommodate up to 3.6 million metric tons of cargo and mail parcels.

Khon Kaen University unveils world's first silk bicycle


Khon Kaen - Khon Kaen University has unveiled the world’s first silk bicycle to underline that silk’s uses can extend beyond textiles.

The bike, built with a 15,000-20,000 baht budget, is a demonstration that silk can be formed into a strong structure with the integrity of metal and used to replace other materials. This particular application saw silk replacing the carbon fiber used in bicycles, which typically costs up to four times more than silk and would have added 40,000-100,000 baht to the creation costs.

Silk can withstand five times more pressure than aluminum and has eight times the tensile strength while also being 30 times more shock absorbent. The silk bicycle is lighter than an aluminum unit with the same weight rating and its absorptive properties allows for longer distance riding.

The bike’s creators have registered a patent for their silk and resin based structure for Khon Kaen University, laying groundwork for silk to be developed from a culturally applied material to more modern applications and increasing its economic value.



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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

4 more boys brought out of flooded cave

5 reported missing from sunken boat are alive

Number of smokers in Thailand down to 10.7 million

Govt urged to make rules to regulate blockchain technology

4 rescued from Thai cave in risky operation; 9 remain inside

Thailand pledges justice for Chinese victims of boat tragedy

PM orders compensation for farms affected by Tham Luang water discharge

Stateless people to get citizenship through DNA tests

Search resumes for 23 missing tourists boat tragedy

Rescuers fight water and oxygen levels in cave as diver dies

Army patrol plane crashes in Mae Hong Son

BTS offers refunds and additional trips to those affected by delays

49 missing as boat overturns in Andaman sea

Rescuers race to drain water inside cave before rains

Suvarnabhumi Airport denies charging for use of Premium Lanes

Rice Department prepares assistance for farms flooded in Luang Cave rescue operation

Officials say boys may be taken out of cave in stages

Public advised against donating to cave rescue mission

Fluctuations in the Baht have little impact on economy

Government campaigns for alcohol break during Buddhist Lent

Forecast of heavy rain could complicate cave rescue

British divers bring experience to cave rescue drama

Second Govt-political parties meeting scheduled for September

NBTC lowers asking price in 1800 MHz auction

Rescuers find missing boys and coach alive in cave

Fire breaks out at major seafood company

Office of Ombudsman addresses Airport Rail Link issues

Govt holds forum to promote energy stability

Divers with extra supplies advance in flooded cave passageway

Rabies vaccines administered to 7 million pets and stray animals

90% of foreign workers registered with Ministry of Labor

Kratom use spreads in Phuket

In song and prayer, Thais show solidarity with missing boys

Ice factory in Nan faces closure order after ammonia leaks

AOT to expand airport passenger and cargo capacities

Khon Kaen University unveils world's first silk bicycle



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