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‘Kill the Drill’ : Koh Samui drilling protest

‘Kill the Drill’ : Koh Samui drilling protest

Koh Samui residents and holiday-makers alike, quite literally, ‘joined-hands’ with local travel groups, tourism industry staff, and environmentalists today, to protest against plans to drill for oil close to the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao – all situated in the Gulf of Thailand.

The protest is running under the banner ‘Kill the Drill’, and is aimed directly at both the government department that gave permission for the drilling to go ahead, and the drilling company itself.

The company involved – ‘Nucoastal’ (a subsidiary of the U.K.-based Coastal Energy Company), has already been given permission for exploration and drilling some 42 kilometres off the coast of Koh Samui.

The protest movement against the drilling gained both momentum and publicity after a recent public hearing about the matter had to be abandoned.

The hearing had only just begun, when around 300 environmentalists, local travel and tourism industry staff, as well as concerned residents, began to make their presence felt, and their voices heard. As far as they were concerned, the government had a simple choice to make… tourism, or drilling for oil.

The protest leader, and chairman of the ‘Rak Chawaeng environmental conservation group, Thanongsak Somwong, later sent a letter of protest to Koh Samui’s Mayor – Rammonate Jaikwang.
The mayor also holds the position of President of the ‘Siam Gulf Preservation Network Group (SGPNG), and felt strongly enough about opposing the drilling project that he went on to organize the major ‘Kill the Drill’ protest which took place on Koh Samui today (31st July).

The initial idea of the Koh Samui protest was to form a ‘human chain’ around the island’s ring road – made-up of some 30,000+ people. Each person was to link hands in a demonstration of unity of opposition against the exploration and drilling project.

In reality, the protest clearly failed to collect the rather ambitiously stated 30,000+ participants… non-the-less, thousands actually did show-up – including school children, resort workers, tourists, and residents.

They collected in groups and lines all around the island’s main road… the linking of hands didn’t actually happen in most parts… but there was undoubtedly a symbolic linking between all of those that gave up their time to show their opposition against the drilling.

Some of the groups simply stood in silence, their opposition demonstrable by their very presence.

However, some groups were very animated, waving small flags that had been printed with the protest’s red clenched fist logo, and cheering as passing cars, trucks, and motorbikes hooted their horns in acknowledgement and support of their actions.

Still others had gone to the bother of creating large hand-held signs – some obviously ‘home-made’, and others (equally obviously) professionally-made and printed.

Was the protest a success?

Absolutely! No doubt what-so-ever!
It would have been impossible to drive a kilometer on the road – even in the quietest parts – without coming across groups of people making their stance known.

Some of those groups would have been fairly small… maybe 6 – 10 people.
But some of those groups were big… containing anywhere between 50 and 250 or more people!

Although I’m not sure if 30,000 turned-out, what can be said, in all honesty, was that there were definitely thousands… and on an island like Samui, that is most definitely a success – by any standards!

Will the protest change anything?

Sadly, and in my honest opinion… I doubt it.

Thailand – just like practically every other country on this environmentally polluted planet of ours – generally pays only ‘lip-service’ to us ordinary folk… we ‘little people’.

Governments may give us the right to protest (in those more ‘civilized’ countries anyway), and even acknowledge our honestly held opinions… but the reality seems to be that the ‘Big Bucks’ guys have louder voices!

To tell you the truth, cynic that I am, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that permissions have already been given, and contracts already signed.

The potential to earn billions of baht from any oil found in the Thai gulf – together with the fact that this oil would also help make Thailand less dependant on imported oil – is probably considered (by those ‘in power’) to be much more important than the (relatively) low risk of an oil-spill/accident that could wipe out the tourism and destroy wildlife in the area.

I suppose it is situations like this where we discover just how much weight groups like the Tourism Assoc. of Koh Samui; The Thai Hotels Association (Samui), the Tourism Associations of Koh Phangan and Koh Tao; the Green Islands Foundation; and the numerous other local community groups, actually have… not forgetting the Mayor of Koh Samui himself!

Does their collective opinion – in the real world – actually count for anything?

I doubt it.

Still, you never know… maybe things will be different ‘this time’.

But I won’t be holding my breath!

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