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Fatal Halong Bay Sinking - Will Anyone Learn This Time?

By: Tim Russell Posted: February-21-2011 in
Tim Russell

Following last week’s fatal sinking of a tourist junk in Halong Bay, the repercussions are now being felt. Currently no overnight cruises are allowed on the Bay, 2 of the ship’s crew have been arrested, and the local authority have announced that “We are going to examine the safety of all the tourist boats in Quang Ninh and Halong Bay after this accident”, which implies that such examinations have never previously taken place.

Dear oh dear, what a shambles. The last tourist boat to sink in the bay was in September 2009, when 4 people were killed. The boat in question, operated by a company called Bien Mo, was caught in a storm while anchored overnight, despite it having no licence to do night cruises. Last year, Bien Mo changed their name to Truong Hai. Sound familiar? That’s because it was the Truong Hai boat which sank last week, killing a further 12 people. Which begs the question, why are they still allowed to operate, having been caught operating without a licence after a fatal accident in 2009?

Further reports today inform us that the 22-year old captain has been arrested and charged with violating safety rules. 22? A bit young for a ship’s captain isn’t it? Surely the company wouldn’t be employing cheap, unqualified staff in such an important job would they? I guess we all know the answer to that one.

Of course, this being Vietnam, where nothing is ever anyone’s fault and noone ever takes responsibility for anything, the media and local tourism companies have gone into damage limitation mode. Vietnamnet, one of the country’s most visited news sites, seems to have expunged all mention of the event from its English website. And the Tripadvisor forums are full of Hanoi-based agents saying let’s not point the finger, these things happen etc etc., and, worst of all, claiming that if the people on board had booked more expensive tours, they wouldn’t have died, as if safety is something reserved for luxury travellers.

What rubbish. The finger can be pointed in numerous directions - the local authorities for allowing unseaworthy vessels and unqualified crew out onto the water; the boat owners for cutting corners on safety; the crew, for abandoning ship and leaving their passengers to die; the tour operators who sell tours on dangerous boats such as the Truong Hai.

The upshot of this is that currently, overnight cruises on the Bay, one of the nicest experiences visitors to Vietnam can have, are currently suspended, meaning that legitimate operators who take safety seriously are suffering because of a chain of irresponsibility and, most likely, corruption.

What a mess, and what a sad reflection on our tourism industry.


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