Inspection staff suspended after hydrofoil fire

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The wreck of hydrofoil Vina Express 1, which caught on January 20 on the Saigon River, after the 92 people onboard escaped to safety / PHOTO COURTESY OF VNEXPRESS

Vietnam Register, a national agency tasked with checking vehicle safety, has suspended two staff members at its department in Ho Chi Minh City following a hydrofoil accident early this week.

Bui Thanh Son and Mai Ngoc Cuong with Register Agency No.6, will be on leave and file reports on the inspection procedures they used when they approved the Vina Express 1 vessel, online newspaper VnExpress reported on Friday.

The hydrofoil caught fire some 15 minutes after departing the city’s wharf for the southern beach town of Vung Tau on January 20. It was carrying 85 passengers, including 37 foreigners, and seven Vietnamese crew members.

Everyone on board jumped off the boat during the fire, but all were safe as the captain had piloted the vessel to shallow waters near shore.

The accident, which caused no casualties but destroyed the boat, happened just a few days after it went through periodical checks on January 17.

Both HCMC mayor Le Hoang Quan and Minister of Transport Dinh La Thang held Register Agency No.6, which is in charge of checking 21 hydrofoils operating in the city, responsible.

But speaking to the press, agency head Pham Ninh said once the checks were finished and the boat received a certificate for its quality and safety, his agency’s job was done.

He said wharf authorities are supposed to check the boat before allowing it to leave the wharf.

According to Ninh, his agency had reviewed all procedures related to the inspection of Vina Express 1 and found that everything was line with regulations.

However, in its latest order, Vietnam Register ordered Ninh’s agency to review the process again and clarify mistakes, if any, by involved people.

The agency must also collaborate with related agencies to identifying the accident’s cause, VnExpress reported.

On the other hand, all boats managed by the agency will have to be cross-checked.

Following the accident, HCMC authorities suspended the use of all hydrofoils in the city for quality and safety inspections. It is not clear yet when the suspension will be lifted.

They also ordered VinaExpress Joint-stock Company to contact all its passengers to compensate for their losses.

In a proposal submitted to the government on Thursday, the city People’s Committee asked the government to regulate an expiry date for hydrofoils and reduce intervals between quality checks for high-speed boats.

Regulations on register agencies’ responsibilities in vehicle accidents are also needed, according to the proposal

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In an interview with Giao Thong Van Tai (Transport) newspaper last year, Vu Ngoc Thao, director of the Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province Department of Transport, said most hydrofoils operating on the HCMC-Vung Tau route were second-hand vessels bought abroad as early as the 1990s.

Three companies operate a total of 17 hydrofoils on the route, making 19 trips every day and 26 on weekends.

Tran The Ky, deputy director of the HCMC Department of Transport, was quoted as saying that the boats have been involved in 34 accidents, two of them fatal, since June 2007.

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