BANGKOK -- The southern coastal provinces of Thailand, including the famous tourist destination of Koh Samui, are bracing for the first powerful tropical storm of the year, which is due to hit the area this weekend. It may cause major disruption to the tourism industry, which supplies about 20% of the country's gross domestic product.
The Meteorological Department has warned local people about Tropical Storm Pabuk, which is moving into the Gulf of Thailand with maximum sustained winds of 65 kph. That will affect the south with more rain and some torrential downpours on Jan. 3-6.
"People should beware of the severe conditions," the Meteorological Department said in an announcement.
Ferry services that normally carry tourists from the mainland Surat Thani province to Koh Samui have been completely halted from Thursday until Jan. 6 to prevent accidents that could tarnish the image of Thai tourism, said Vorasit Pongkumpunt, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui.
The complete halt in the tourism business in Koh Samui is expected to cut the number of tourists visiting the island by around 1,000 per day.
"Since it is peak season here in Koh Samui, the fall in the number tourists during the halt of the ferry services caused by the storm is expected to cut around 15 million baht ($465,000) a day," said Vorasit.
Flights to Koh Samui have not yet been canceled. However, an official at Samui airport said the weather must be monitored closely and flights could be immediately delayed or canceled if necessary.
Ang Thong Marine National Park will close from Thursday to Saturday for the safety of tourists.
Rains started falling in Surat Thani and Chumporn provinces with stronger winds, while the army and related authorities have set up evacuation centers to be ready to help support local people and tourists if needed.
Meanwhile, PTT Exploration and Production, a subsidiary of Thailand's oil and gas conglomerate PTT Group, has already suspended operations of its offshore gas fields for safety reasons.
"As the Greater Bongkot North and Greater Bongkot South production platforms are located in the direct path of the tropical storm, posing concerns for the safety of all staff and operations, the company has temporarily suspended operations at both platforms and demobilized all staff back ashore at Songkhla province," the company said in an announcement. Operations are due to resume after the storm passes.
However, production at Arthit platform, also located in the Gulf of Thailand, will continue under the company's safety measures so as to minimize the impact on the natural gas supply to the country.
The Energy Ministry has also prepared alternative power generation resources such as diesel and bunker oil to be prepared in case the storm causes gas disruptions that adversely affect power in the area.