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Skyrocketing Oil Prices Sinking Thai Fishing Fleet


High global oil prices are taking their toll in Thailand, where the nation's fishing fleet - one of the largest in Southeast Asia - has been affected. Hundreds of vessels are tied up at dock, threatening huge numbers of jobs.

A passenger ferry makes its way across the Chao Phraya River, a major traffic artery for passenger and cargo vessels in the Thai capital.

Sirichaiekawat, an advisor to the National Fisheries Association, says the rise in the cost of diesel since the government cut price subsidies last year has hit boat owners hard.

"The fisheries are being hit by the oil price since last year ... when the oil price in Thailand, especially diesel, has been increased from 12 baht [31 cents] to around 20 baht [53 cents]. And this year it has gone to 26, 27 baht [71 cents] per liter - that is more than double from last year," he said.

In the southern ports, the home of the Thai fishing fleet, hundreds of vessels are remaining in dock rather than pay the high running costs, threatening the livelihood of tens of thousands. In Songkhla province, desperate vessel owners are trying to sell their boats.

The Thai fishing fleet numbers about 20,000 well-equipped trawlers, which has led to massive over-capacity. This figure does not include a further 30,000 unregistered vessels.

Last week, the Fisheries Association and other fishing industry representatives agreed to set up a fund to buy some of the boats and reduce supply.

Fewer vessels on the water means declining catches. The association says the volume of export-quality shrimp caught at sea this year could fall by as much as 50-percent, to 37-thousand tons.

Wicharn says the industry faces the threat of a heavy unemployment.

"In the beginning, when it first hit in last year, I know the vessel about 20 to 30 percent along the coastline have been stop already. And [now] with the oil price we are facing, I am sure that is going to be 40 to 50 percent of the boats are going to be stopped," he added.

The government is taking steps to assist the industry. The Energy Ministry is offering fuel at below market prices to small-scale fishermen. And the cabinet late last month moved to make natural gas more widely available for boats.

Thailand imports 90 percent of its fuel and consumes 70 million liters a day. On Tuesday, the Thai central bank's Monetary Policy Committee called rising oil prices a significant risk factor in the long-term outlook for the economy.

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