Both foreigners are involved in the tourist industry on the island and were called to task by a local man, a conservationist and fellow diver. He questioned whether their playacting with the sea life and underwater creatures at the bottom of the island’s exotic deep was appropriate. The video went viral and drew the attention of Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Varawut Silpa-archa who told officials to throw the book at them.
A cabinet minister has intervened after two foreigners caused an internet sensation on Facebook with fun pictures of an underwater dive in a protected area. Both Attila Ott and Francesco Simonetti are now facing legal charges that could see them jailed for one year. Mr Otto and his wife were also fined by police for failing to notify them of his change in residence on the island.
A ministerial intervention has led to two foreigners, long-stay residents on Ko Phangan, being arrested by the police and facing a charge of violating an area under an environmental protection order.
The two men, identified as Hungarian Atilla Ott and his Italian friend Francesco Simonetti were arrested by police on Ko Phangan after the minister ordered that legal action be taken against them.
Attention of cabinet minister drawn to the underwater adventure video which went viral online
Natural Resources and Environment Minister, Varawut Silpa-archa was appalled when his attention was drawn to a Facebook post by the two men flagging their underwater frolics.
In the video (see below), the two men can be seen examining the wonders of the deep and the maritime creatures that live at the bottom of the sea.
The men can be seen playfully holding some of the creatures and in another instance, a selfie stick is used to prod an underwater specimen to withdraw. The video appeared to be humorous and to show the fun that the two men were having.
Local man asked if the escapade was appropriate describing the activity on the video as ‘ugly’
However, it drew the attention of Sitthiroj Kaewnongsamed, a Ko Phanang resident who also appears to have an interest in diving and conservation.
Mr Sitthiroj shared the video of the two western men cavorting and asked online users ‘Is it appropriate?’
He pointed out that this was not the first time that one of the foreigners had been involved in such antics. He described the activity as ‘ugly’.
Mr Sitthiroj said that the exotic sea life in the ocean surrounding Ko Phangan was essential to attracting foreign tourists but that the two men in question were, in fact, living on the island.
He urged them to desist and not to endanger the marine life within the ecosystem. ‘Don’t do it,’ he urged and called on the public to raise their voice against this sort of behaviour.
Chartthaipattana minister, whose party is aligned with the Bhumjaithai Party in parliament, waded in
The post by the Ko Phanang resident somehow drew the attention of the minister responsible for Thailand’s fight against climate change and the country’s assiduous environmental programmes in protecting coastal areas and forestry.
Minister Varawut Silpa-archa comes from a political family and is an MP with the Chartthaipattana Party which is currently allied with the Bhumjaithai Party led by Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul.
The party has a strong base in Suphan Buri province in central Thailand.
Following the investigation and arrests, Mr Varawut was reported as saying: ‘The sea is home to marine life and marine resources. In the sea, humans are like uninvited guests. They should not do anything to annoy them or cause damage to their habitat.’
Told officials to throw the book at the two men
After the reaction to the post went viral on Facebook, Thailand’s most popular social network site, Mr Varawut instructed the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources to look into the matter, first to check if the two men held the appropriate diving permits and other approvals required by law for their activity.
He then ordered the permanent secretary at the ministry to commence legal action against the pair.
This led to the arrest of the two men at 9 am on Tuesday after they were requested to report to the local police station on the island.
In addition, all driving licences and other official documents relating to the pair are being examined.
Both men work within the tourism trade on Ko Phangan and are long term residents
Mr Ott runs a diving business on the island, the Pink Panther Scuba Dive Club and is also the owner of a restaurant. His friend, Mr Simonetti is a chef who works at a barbecue restaurant called the Il Barracuda.
Both men met with government officials from the local Marine and Coastal Resources Office at the police station on Tuesday and were charged for intruding into the environmental protection area at sea. They face a potential fine of ฿100,000 or 1-year imprisonment if found guilty.
In addition, Mr Ott was fined by police for not notifying them of a change of residence and his wife, Kritiyaporn Khamsing, was also fined for failing to notify police of a foreigner residing within her home within 24 hours.