The latest arrest of a foreign tourist for breaching Thailand’s strict laws on the conservation of natural resources follows a string of incidents since 2017. The 22-year-old Dutchman will be brought before the court in Phuket but is certain to be afterwards deported and blacklisted from the country if convicted of a criminal offence under the 2019 National Parks Act. 

Police officers in Phuket are preparing a case against a Dutch tourist who was arrested by police on Monday afternoon following public outrage over a TikTok video and an order from the Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment to apprehend him after he used a speargun to kill parrot fish off Phi Phi Leh, in a protected natural park near Krabi and P{huket. The 22-year-old man faces up to five years of imprisonment if convicted in court and will almost certainly be ordered deported and blacklisted from the kingdom.

Phuket police officers arrested 22-year-old Roslan Bendenia on Monday afternoon and took him to Chalong Police Station for questioning over a TikTok viral video which sparked public outrage last week showing him with protected parrot fish and with a knife through the head of a moray eel. The Dutch tourist denies any intent to break the law saying he was unaware that his spearfishing activities off Ko Phi Phi Leh on August 9th were illegal in nature.

A Dutch tourist in Thailand has found himself at the centre of criminal prosecution while facing up to 5 years in jail after hiring a boat to go fishing off Ko Phi Phi island in Phuket on Tuesday 9th August last.

The story erupted several days later when Thailand’s crusading natural resources and environment minister, Mr Varawut Silpa-archa, was alerted to a video posted on the social network site Tik Tok which showed 22-year-old Mr Roslan Bendenia holding aloft 5 exotic looking fish specimens including, according to the minister, two endangered and very rare parrot fish.

Mr Varawut is known in Thailand for his hardline stance in such situations having demanded the deportation of two foreigners living on Ko Phangan for making a video playing with underwater specimens in 2020.

Tiktok video caused outrage after it went viral last week prompting the crusading minister to intervene

This latest video caused outrage among many Thais who are very sympathetic to the country’s natural waters and sea life. It also showed Mr Bendenia killing a moray eel by stabbing it in the head with a knife.

On Friday, a similarly incensed Mr Warawut Silpa-archa, as Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment, called for those involved in the video to be arrested and deported from Thailand.

This resulted in a police operation to track down the man seen in the video.

Mr Bendenia was later detained at a coffee shop in the Chalong area of Phuket at 3.30 pm approximately on Monday and taken by police for questioning to nearby Chalong Police Station.

Tourist says he was unaware of breaking any law as he went spearfishing off Phi Phi island on August 9th

On Tuesday, Police Lieutenant Colonel Ekkachai Siri of Phuket’s Tourist Police told the media that the Dutchman admitted that he was the man in the video and that he had caught the fish.

The video showed him proudly displaying the fish after putting his knife through the head of a moray eel.

He said he was unaware that he was fishing in protected waters or a natural park.

He explained to officers that he had rented a boat to take him from Ko Phi Phi Don on August 9th at 1 pm to Ko Phi Phi Leh.

On Phi Phi Don, he had also hired a speargun from a local service provider to spend the day spearfishing.

Mr Bendenia’s Tik Tok video account has since been shut down and the video removed.

He named the Captain of the boat to the police as Mr Risana Tordting.

Minister reveals boat owner, captain and whoever hired out the speargun to Mr Bendenia are being investigated by police in Phuket and on the islands

On Tuesday, Minister Warawut confirmed the arrest and said the police were now processing a case against the tourist under the provisions of the National Parks Act 2019.

‘Roslan confessed that he rented a long-tailed boat from Ko Phi Phi Don and travelled on it to Ko Phi Phi Leh, with Risana Tordting, the captain of the boat. He confessed he rented a speargun from someone at Ko Phi Phi Don and used it to hunt fish at Ko Phi Phi Leh at around 1 pm on August 9, 2022. He claims he didn’t know the area was a national park,’ disclosed the minister. ‘Officers from Phi Phi Police Station are collecting evidence and will prosecute Roslan according to the law. The boat owner, boat service, and speargun renter are also under investigation.’

Law says offenders can get up to 5 years

Under Sections 19 and 42 of the 2019 law strengthening the protections of national parks, Mr Bendenia faces a prison term of up to 5 years or a fine of ฿500,000 if convicted.

Section 19(12) of the act makes ‘carrying out any other act affecting the ecosystem, biological diversity and natural resources and the environment’ a prohibited act and Section 42 imposes the prescribed penalty.

This is not the first such incident involving foreigners and protected waters in Thailand.

Furore over expats who made underwater video playing with exotic and rare species led to deportation orders and upended their lives in September 2020

In September 2020, a furore erupted after two expats living on the idyllic Ko Phangan island made a provocative underwater video in which they were seen frolicking and playing with exotic underwater species.

Minister Varawut Silpa-archa also played a driving role in having legal action taken against these men who were actively involved in managing thriving business concerns on the island as well as having family connections.

Hungarian Atilla Ott and Italian Francesco Simonetti were arrested and prosecuted under the law while also, as a consequence, having their visas revoked by the Surat Thani immigration Bureau.

Top officials urge speedy end to Ko Pha Ngan expat’s appeal to stay in Thailand after dive video outrage
Two Europeans to be deported after frolics under the waves video irks local people in Surat Thani

Both were ordered deported from Thailand.

Mr Simonetti appealed the decision and is understood to be still resident in Thailand while Mr Ott left Thailand with his life uprooted.

Six French tourists arrested in 2018 and blacklisted from Thailand while a shocked Russian woman spent two nights in jail for being found feeding the fish

Before this and before the 2019 law with stronger legal sanctions, six French tourists were arrested in Phuket for harpooning the endangered parrot fish off Promthep Cape in Phuket.

They were each fined ฿100,000 and immediately deported from Thailand while also being blacklisted from again gaining entry to the kingdom.

In February 2017, a 53-year-old Russian woman, Olga Smirnova, was arrested by officers of the Marine and Coastal Resources department in Phuket when she was observed on Ko Racha Yai feeding bread to fish in the water.

The shocked Russian woman was arrested and taken to Chalong Police Station where Mr Bendenia was detained on Monday.

Ms Smirnova spent two nights in jail before being brought before the court and was lucky to be only fined ฿1,000.

A week earlier, a Chinese national, 35-year-old Huang Yongjia was fined ฿100,000 for carrying away two parrot fish in a bottle from local waters.

Conservationists and marine protection activists have argued that the endangered parrot fish, as well as adding beauty to the underwater scenes off the coast of Thailand, is also a key actor in eating dead algae and other materials which has the effect of preserving the kingdom’s coral reefs and underwater environment.

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