Safety suffers on Ha Long Bay cruises

Published: 17/05/2011 05:00



Three months after a tour boat owned by
Truong Hai Co Ltd sank in Ha Long Bay, drowning 12 people, another boat has gone
down at the World Heritage site. No casualties were reported in the latest
accident early last week but the seaworthiness of vessels in the area has once
again be called into question. Viet Nam News reporter Vinh Hoa spoke with local
authorities and tour operators about this issue.

* Pham Trung
Luong, deputy head of the Institute of Tourism Development Research, under the
Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.

How do you see
as the effect of the two recent incidents in Ha Long Bay on the tourism sector?

The tourism sector and the local government
including the Ha Long Management Board share the responsibility for such
incidents. I think these incidents had a more or less negative effect on tourism
in Ha Long Bay and in Viet Nam as well because safety is one of the top
priorities in tourism development activities.

The leaders of the
General Department of Tourism had a meeting with local authorities to discuss
what needs to be improved, especially in terms of management capacity. Before
the incident in February, the Department had issued a regulation for overnight
boats but after the incident we saw that this regulation had to take effect as
soon as possible to ensure safety for tourists at the bay.

Will similar
incidents happen again?

It’s hard to say
because, in addition to the management issues, there is always a risk of
accidents. Even in more developed countries, accidents can still happen and no
one can be 100 per cent sure that a similar tragedy will not happen again.
However, if the management and other factors are improved, it will lessen the
chance of accidents.

Is safety one
of the focuses of Viet Nam tourism’s development strategy?

Yes, it is. It is
included in what we call “improving the quality of tourism product”. Besides
beautiful views and perfect service, safety is another important factor when it
comes to creating a good tourism product. For all tours, having insurance is a
must for tourists. Only small companies or dummy companies do not follow these
requirements. For Ha Long tourists, insurance is included in their boat tickets.

Do you think
the boats in Ha Long bay are safe?

I think there are no
technical problems. But the issue lies with the quality and responsibilities of
captains and crew members. I think in the February incident, despite the captain
having sufficient certificates, he lacked experience. We haven’t had a
regulation that requires captains to have a minimum number of years’ experience
before they captain a sea cruise.

Another issue is the
number of boats in the Bay. We have sounded warnings about this many times. At
Ha Long bay, there are not only tourist boats, but also transport vessels such
as those transporting minerals or other goods. When the bay is overcrowded, it’s
not good for sightseeing and there is also an increased chance of collision. The
Ha Long management board has direct responsibility for controlling this. They
should control when boats can operate in the bay to help reduce density. The
numbers of tourist boats should also be regulated.

* Dao Xuan
An, chairman of Ha Long People’s Committee

What has been
done to ensure boats on the bay are safe?

The incident last
week is still being investigated by the police so I can’t comment on the causes.
However, after the incident in February which saw 12 people die, Quang Ninh
Province’s People Committee requested the inspection of all tourist boats in Ha
Long Bay. In April, they released new safety criteria for all vessels that spend
the night on the water. Before that, we didn’t have specific criteria for
overnight boats in Viet Nam.

After the inspection,
only 30 of 160 boats met those criteria. We have been working with owners of
those boats which didn’t pass muster and have requested they upgrade their boats
by June. By that time, if those boats still do not meet the safety criteria,
they will have to stop operating night tours, but they can still operate during
the day. For daytime boats, we have different operating criteria. Night tours
are more risky so the criteria are stricter and there are more requirements.

Are there any
difficulties in upgrading those boats?

I think the
challenging thing is capacity building. Captains, captain assistants, tour
guides and medical staff all need to be trained. Also, there are certain steps
in the process for upgrading the boats which might take longer than a two-month
timeframe for modifications set by Quang Ninh People’s Committee. There is also
not enough space in the dockyard for all 130 boats to be there at one time. So I
think we might have to request an extension for the upgrades.

What are the
main challenges in ensuring tourist safety?

I think the capacity
of captains is key. The sinking of the cruise boat in February was the result of
the captain not following the required technical processes, and this saw water
flowing into the vessel. So scanning crew members’ working certificates before
letting cruises operate is crucial.

We have a rescue team
on duty 24 hours a day. They are based at only one location and will go to
rescue victims immediately on hearing distress signals. But for cases like that
in February, where tourists were sleeping when the boat sank, a rescue was

* Nghiem Thuy
Ha, product manager, ThreeLand Travel Company. Her company operates tours in
Southeast Asia. Every year, they send several thousand customers to Ha Long Bay.

How did the
recent incidents in Ha Long Bay affect your company’s business?

The incident in February had a huge effect. It happened right before several
major international tourism expos, and word got around. When I was attending the
international tourism convention at Berlin, many customers asked me about that

I haven’t seen much
fallout from the incident last week. This is probably because it was pretty
recent and left no casualties. Also May is low season for overseas tourism in
Viet Nam. But in general I think this incident will certainly create some
difficulties for the tourism sector in Ha Long Bay in the future.

How seriously
does your company take safety?

The priority for my
company and other responsible tourism companies is making sure that boats
operating in the Ha Long Bay carry life jackets. We also ensure that the
operators have a proven track record.

My customers often
purchase travel insurance before they came to Viet Nam so we usually only buy
insurance for them for dangerous or adventurous trips. Our Ha Long tour has not
yet been included in the list because no one thought that it was dangerous. But
after these incidents, I’m seriously considering buying insurance for my
customers who go on Ha Long tours if insurance companies start to offer such

How would you
like to see safety issues tackled in the future?

First of all, I hope
that the authorities are stricter about product certificates in Ha Long Bay. The
boat that sank in February had, in fact, received an operating certificate in
January but it sunk only one month after that. I think my company and other
tourism companies all hope that the inspections for boat operating certificates
are going to be improved.

Secondly, I think
there should be stiff penalties for people who violate boat operating
regulations. Only then can an example be set. It is very difficult to increase
responsibility by education alone.

Nam News

Provide by Vietnam Travel

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