Halong Bay boats in hot water

QUANG NINH, 13 March 2017: Six tourist cruise boats in Halong and Bai Tu Long bays have been permanently beached by the People’s Committee of Quang Ninh province’s Halong City.

Local media reported the action was taken, last week, to restore a positive image for Halong Bay cruises after several boat fires in recent years.

Five of the six banned boats, coded Hung Long QN-1156, Hoa Phuong 02 QN-4239, White Dolphine QN-4894, Sunrise QN-2287 and Aphrodite 11 QN-6299, were damaged by fires during the last two years. They are not allowed to return to service despite having undergone repairs.

The sixth boat was grounded  due to a provincial People’s Committee’s change of policy on ship crew rules.

The six boats will no longer be used for sightseeing cruises that often include an overnight at anchor in the bay, the report said.

The latest incident occurred, earlier this month, when the cabin of a wooden boat, registered as Huy Loc QN 3883, burst into flames. It was the third fire since the beginning of this year.

The committee also temporarily grounded  a boat, coded Hai Phong 08 QN-3006, which is operated by Hai Phong Company Limited, following allegations that it had violated rules on transporting tourists. An investigation is underway. The company owns nine other boats, including four for overnight cruisers and five tourist day cruise boats.

The committee will investigate overnight cruisers suspected of not paying fees for sightseeing and overnight stays on the bay. Violators will be banned from operating boats, the report added.

An outright ban on overnight cruises is also on the cards. Critics say they put passengers at greater risk if there is an accident at night when guests are sleeping.  A conclusion on ending overnight cruises has yet to be reached. Last year, provincial authorities said tourist boats would be banned from anchoring overnight on Halong and Bai Tu Long bays. But nothing has been done so far.

There is also a policy to replace all wooden boats with steel-hulled boats over the next five years.

Quang Ninh issued a temporary regulation that allowed wooden ships to operate for a maximum of 15 years, as opposed to 25 years. However it is likely all wooden boats will be phased out by 2021.

Halong Bay is the most popular sightseeing destination in northern Vietnam and was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. It is also one of the world’s New 7 Wonders of Nature designated in April 2012 by New Open World Corporation, an associate of the New 7 Wonders Foundation.