Vietnam authorities lax over hydrofoil safety

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  A hydrofoil operated by Dong Song Xanh (Greenlines) Company was damaged due to rough waters while going from Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau last August / PHOTO: NGUYEN LONG

Nine people were killed when a motorboat sank off Ho Chi Minh City's coast last Saturday. According to initial findings, the accident happened when the weather was bad and because the boat was carrying 30 people, although it was designed to carry just 12.

The accident, which has raised many questions about authorities' responsibilities, has reminded me of the hydrofoils plying between HCMC and the resort town of Vung Tau. For many years, the operation and management of these high-speed boats have been mostly neglected.

On July 26, or one week before the motorboat accident, a hydrofoil operated by the Dong Song Xanh (Greenlines) Company broke down when carrying 100 passengers back from Vung Tau. The boat drifted, hitting a marker and had its last hold inundated, for about an hour, before resuming its trip with a subordinate engine.

After the accident, which was among many mishaps that have happened over years, authorities apparently did not take any action apart from suspending the boat.

In the meantime, many other hydrofoils still continue operating, even though they too, like the troubled boat, were made in 1990, and were actually used boats bought from the former Soviet Union.

Since they were put into operation in 1995, they have undergone continuous repairs and maintenance, but these efforts are not enough to make them safe.

In a recent interview with the Giao Thong Van Tai (Transport) newspaper, Vu Ngoc Thao, director of Ba Ria Vung Tau's Department of Transport, said: "Crew members are always standing outside the boats' doors, ready for a bad situation.

"They know for sure that it is not safe to be inside the boats."

According to Thao, another problem is that many hydrofoils are functioning with one engine, although one-engine boats are only suitable for operating on rivers.

It means that many hydrofoils in use are unfit for the HCMC Vung Tau route, which requires them to pass the Ganh Rai Bay that is more than 10 sea miles wide and often experiences big waves and winds, he said.

Even if a hydrofoil has two engines, it can still get into troubles. The boat that drifted on July 26 was actually supported by two engines, but it took the second an hour to start up after the first one broke down.

If we compare these scrappy high-speed boats with the motorboat sinking off HCMC's coast, it is obvious that we are very fortunate that the hydrofoils have not been involved in any fatal accident.

With Vung Tau being a popular tourism destination, thousands of people travel on the hydrofoils every day, thus putting themselves at risk of being killed in some accident.

It is unfortunate that most of the authorities do not care enough about the safety of the people.

According to Thao, his department has sent five letters to different agencies, warning them of the hydrofoils' risks and asking them to take action, but they have received "no responses so far."

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