Grieving relatives blame boat mishap on unfinished bridge

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Grieving relatives blame boat mishap on unfinished bridge


The shadow of sorrow, fear and anger hangs heavily over Quang Hai Commune of Quang Binh Province five days after a boat accident on the Gianh River killed 42 locals.
Women console a grieving resident from Quang Binh Province's Quang Hai Commune, who lost relatives in the boat accident on the Gianh River.
The accident happened on Sunday, the last day of the last lunar year, effectively cancelling any Tet celebration in the commune.
Cao Xuan Thanh lost his wife and two daughters, one of them pregnant.
The accident killed 10 children aged under six and left 35 others motherless, according to the commune People's Committee.
The boat was carrying 78 people of whom 36 either swam to safety or were saved by five locals who were sailing on the river at the time.
Many locals have been frustrated about the delay in the construction of the Quang Hai Bridge across the Gianh River that would connect the Quang Hai islet commune with other localities. The bridge is more than two years overdue.
Construction of the bridge, around one kilometer from the accident site, started in 2004 with a budget of VND82 billion (currently US$4.71 million) and was expected to finish at the end of 2006.
So far only the bridge piles have been built, but it already cost VND170 billion ($9.66 million). A further VND50 billion ($2.87 million) is needed.
Quang Binh Province officials and residents have many times urged the investor-the province's Department of Transport-to speed up the work. The department promised that it would, but did not deliver.
Resident Cao Xuan Hoa says people of the commune now feel like crying every time they have to cross the river.
“We have become scared of boats, but still have to depend on them.
“If only the bridge had met its deadline, we wouldn't have been this miserable.”
Tran Manh Ho, the Communist Party Chief of Quang Hai Commune, said more than 3,000 commune locals have been looking forward to the bridge but “it's to be regretted that the bridge cannot be finished year after year.”
However Deputy Minister of Transport Le Manh Hung Friday said locals shouldn't associate the mishap with the delay in bridge construction.
Hung, coming to visit the victims' families and award five local rescuers, said the delay was caused by geological factors and budget problems.
Meanwhile, Director of the Transport Department Nguyen Van Long promised yet again to speed up the work and put the bridge into use this May.
Long said some blame for the accident rested at the feet of the commune and Quang Trach District administration leaders.
He said the provincial authorities and traffic safety board must also take part of the responsibility, adding that investigations will identify the faults of each agency.
Tran Thi Lan, a Quang Hai resident, said the commune also wished to have a market of their own so that they don't have to cross the river every day to buy food at another commune.
A market was built around six months ago but was yet to be put in use, Lan said.
On Thursday rescue workers recovered the body of Pham Thi Hong, the last one of 42 victims.
Quang Binh Province police Chief Phan Thanh Ha said this was "one of the worst ferry accidents in Vietnam."
Most of the people who drowned were children and women, including the wife of one of the two owners of the boat, Nguyen Xuan Mau.
The boat's approved capacity was about 12 people, authorities have said, while others have estimated the capacity at about 40 people.
Nguyen Xuan Quy, captain and co-owner of the boat, was detained after the accident for investigation.
The province cancelled the Lunar New Year's Eve firework displays planned for that night.
Tran Manh Ho, the commune's party chief, said 100 local women were sent to take care of the victims' families during the first three days of the lunar year.
Ho told the Tuoi Tre newspaper that as of Thursday afternoon, 55 governmental and non-governmental agencies had visited and donated some VND1.2 billion (US$69,000) to help surviving family members overcome the consequences of the accident.
Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung sent messages of condolences to the families of the deceased.
Dung asked the Quang Binh Province People's Committee to cooperate with the ministries of Health, Transport and Public Security to help the victims' families.
The Ministry of Public Security is cooperating with the Ministry of Transport and the People's Committee to investigate the cause of the accident and take preventive measures.
The Minister of Transport Ho Nghia Dung Friday formed two teams to inspect selected piers across the country on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.
The teams comprising ministry inspectors and officials from Vietnam Registry and the National Traffic Safety Board will stop the operation of unlicensed piers, ban ferries that don't meet safety standards and order boat and pier owners to comply with waterway traffic regulations.
Nguyen Van Cong, spokesman of the ministry, said Quang Hai pier in the eponymous commune is licensed and managed by the commune People's Committee.

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