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Thai Prime Minister: cave will become “an important tourist spot”

Thai soldiers relay electric cable deep into the Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018 during a rescue operation for a missing children's football team and their coach. - Desperate parents led a prayer ceremony outside a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as military rescue divers packing food rations resumed their search on June 26. (Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)

The Thai cave at the center of an international mission to rescue a soccer team and its coach is likely to become a tourist destination, government officials say.

As rescuers worked around the clock to free the 12 boys and the man who coaches them, Thailand’s Prime Minster Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Tuesday that the cave in the northern province of Chiang Rai was “likely to become famous nationally and worldwide.”

“It will eventually become an important tourist spot,” he said in a Facebook live video stream from his office. “Therefore we have to come up with [safety] measures to accommodate the tourism activities.”

The prime minister added that in the past authorities lacked a good map of the cave, but that following the mammoth rescue operation “we should have a better diagram to create safety.”

The Tham Luang Nang Non cave network made headlines around the world after the boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach disappeared on June 23.

The group became stranded in the flooded tunnels after a relentless downpour of rain, until two British divers discovered them perched on a small ledge of dry land nine days later.

Rescue teams are now racing to free the boys before more rain is forecast next week, and are working on solutions ranging from teaching them to dive to drilling an escape route.

Once the mission is complete, authorities plan to repair the damage inflicted on the cave, and upgrade the area to a national park.

The cave network is already well-known by locals. For the first kilometer (0.6 miles) or so inside the cavernous entrance, limestone rock formations hug high ceilings, creating an almost amphitheater-like atmosphere.

Jongklai Worapongsathorn, the deputy director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, told Thailand’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) that the department had set its sights on developing the cave into a tourist destination.

The plan would include signs making it clear to tourists which parts of the cave they should stay clear of, he said.