With little left for them to do, HK officers will begin returning
Elaine Wu and Ravina Shamdasani in Phuket
Thai police say no more survivors will be found but team could help in other ways
Some of the government workers sent to Phuket to help Hong Kong families and victims in the aftermath of the tsunami will begin returning home today, as there is little left for them to do.
Linda So Ka-pik, principal assistant secretary of the Security Bureau, said in Phuket last night: 'As the situation in Thailand stabilises and the demand for our services decline, we have decided to reassign the staff according to the actual need. But we will continue to keep all basic services.'
The news came as assistant director of immigration David Chiu Wai-kai arrived on the island yesterday to boost the morale of about 60 officers by handing out letters of appreciation.
For the past week, immigration staff have operated 24-hour stations at Phuket and Bangkok airports to assist Hong Kong tsunami victims and their relatives. From today, the desks will operate only during peak periods.
Immigration officers had also been assigned to six Phuket hospitals to check whether any new patients were from Hong Kong. But from tomorrow, they will remain at only one hospital, where a 14-year-old Hong Kong girl is still being treated.
Since the tsunami struck on December 26, the Hong Kong government has sent about 160 staff, including police, immigration officers, Civil Aid Service workers and medical workers to Thailand to help victims and their families.
The police have been searching hotels in Phuket and Khao Lak, where some of the missing Hong Kong tourists had been staying. Their work continued yesterday, with officers visiting all the hotels on Phuket's west coast.
A senior Thai police officer agreed that some of the Hong Kong police should leave because there was little hope of finding missing people alive in Phuket, nine days after the disaster.
But he suggested they could help with other recovery efforts.
'Right now it is quite late to find people who are still alive,' said Ponprasert Ganjanarintr, a superintendent in the foreign affairs division of the Thai police.
'They can return home and help us get DNA information from relatives of the missing.
'Now, we also need help with equipment and support to help Phuket recover quickly and for people like fishermen to get new boats and regain their livelihood.'
He said Thai authorities had already sought the guest lists from all hotels but the Hong Kong police's efforts were welcome and helpful.
Yesterday, the Hong Kong police divided into about a dozen teams of three to go to each hotel on the west coast of Phuket, where the tsunami hit. But one inspector on the search team said Hong Kong police faced obstacles doing their job in Phuket due to language difficulties and their lack of authority.