Cave saga an example of our apathy to safety: The Nation

Thai soldiers pumping flooded water out of the cave complex during a rescue operation for a missing youth soccer team and their coach at Tham Luang cave in Thailand.
Thai soldiers pumping flooded water out of the cave complex during a rescue operation for a missing youth soccer team and their coach at Tham Luang cave in Thailand.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In its editorial, the paper calls for measures to improve the people's attitude towards safety.

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thai people have shown that they can come together when the situation calls for it. This is amply borne out by the display of moral support for the ongoing search-and-rescue mission to save 12 young football players and their assistant coach, trapped in a flooded cave in Chiang Rai province.

Across the nation, images of the search for the missing youths have captured the hearts and minds of people.

Against all odds, aggravated by the relentless rains that continue to flood the cave, and time itself, Thai and international rescue workers from neighbouring Laos, South Korea, China, Japan, and Britain, together with Thai Navy SEALs and 30 members of the US Pacific Command have joined the search.

Beside geographical obstacles, rescue workers are up against pouring rain that continues to flood the cave faster than water can be pumped out.

Other options, including a plan to drill into the mountainside to drain water from inside the cave, have been partially successful.

Another unit is scouring the top of the mountain looking for alternative entrances to the cave.

There is also the fact that lack of coordination among teams exploring shafts has resulted in the waste of valuable time.


There should have been better coordination so that all the rescue teams were aware of which shafts had been searched, Lerpong Suansang, head of a search team of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department, said.

It has been an uphill task and there is also the threat of risk to the lives of the rescue workers, as seen when one worker from Udon Thani province passed out due to exhaustion. He was part of a team that had been trying to pump water out of the cave.

The missing boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach, went missing on June 23, inside the 10km long Tham Luang Cave in Chiang Rai province.

Senior figures and national leaders, including Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, have visited the rescue site to give family members of the lost boys and the rescue workers moral support.

The parents and relatives of the boys have been camping out at the site, hoping and praying that the footballers be located and rescued.

Social media was quick to criticise the presence of too many senior figures, accusing some of chasing the spotlight.

There is merit in the criticism.

Too many high-profile figures could hamper the overall mission as the question of command-and-control of the rescue operation could come into play.

Besides the high number of people present at the site, the vehicles going in and out also pose a logistical challenge to the rescue operation.

It was not clear if they were aware of the extent of the maze of passages and chambers.

Caves in this region are prone to flooding during the rainy season between June and October.

Regardless, this tragedy has raised the question of safety and our overall attitude towards it.

We should not and cannot treat this incident as an isolated incident.

Indeed, there have been so many examples of tragic incidents over the years that remind us how careless about public and personal safety we are as a nation.

From motorists texting while driving to song-taew (red pick-up truck taxi) public transport full of young and old hanging on to the packed vehicles, we see this apathy to safety day in and day out.

Sadly, this has become a common sight on our city streets and we are becoming immune to it. So much so that we make no serious efforts to improve the situation.

The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.