Authorities in the southern province of Binh Duong have suspended an unlicensed port where a boat accident killed 16 people on Friday, according to a local official.
Din Ky Cau Ngang Tourism Area in Binh Nham Commune, which manages the port, has also had its restaurant services along the Saigon River put on hold as well, said Tran Van Nam, vice chairman of Binh Duong Province's People's Committee.
Dam Trong Cuong, vice director of Binh Duong's Department of Transport, said local authorities didn't grant license to the business for operating the port, because it was situated at a dangerous location.
However, the tourism area has still operated the port for years despite warnings and punishments, Cuong said.
Previously police have arrested Le Van Duc, captain of the double-decker boat, which sank from strong winds and a heavy rain on the Saigon River Friday night. Le Van Quang, manager of the boat, and Dinh Van Quan, manager of floating restaurants in the tourism area, were also arrested for investigations.
Initial investigations found that Duc was disqualified for plotting the vessel, designed as a floating restaurant, while the vessel's register certificate expired in February.
The accident took place 15 minutes after the boat departed. A birthday party of a three-year-old boy was being held on the boat with the participation of 21 passengers.
While five passengers and seven crewmembers managed to swim to safety, 16 others, including four Chinese, drowned together with the boat. All the bodies of the deceased, including four children, have been found as of Monday.
Investigations into the case are now under way.
In the meantime, Chau Hoan Tam, owner of the tourism area, said they have sent apologies and financial supports to the victims' families.
"We know that it's hardly possible to compensate a human life no matter how much money we spend, but we'll try our best. We really hope that the victims' families will forgive us," he said.
Asked about some experts' opinions that the boat capsized quickly partly because the crew members closed all the doors during strong winds, Tam said they had never been warned by the register agency about keeping windows open in such case.
He said the crew did so for the sake of customers without being aware of the risk.
Tam blamed Quan for failing to have the boat checked and registered again after its certificate expired.
While criticizing Quang for letting Duc, who wasn't eligible to plot the vessel that fatal night, drive it, Tam explained that Duc was the only captain to be available then.
"The accident wasn't intended ["¦] The mistakes were caused by people who were in charge but failed to complete their responsibilities properly.
"We won't avoid it, but will cooperate at our best with police to clarify related people's responsibilities," Tam said.
A spate of boat accidents in the country has negatively affected the tourism industry, tour operators report.
One operator has already said that its customers canceled a tour of the Saigon River following the latest tragedy.
The Thoi Bao Kinh Te Saigon Online newswire quoted Lua Viet Company's representative as saying that Thai Binh Duong PetroVietnam Transportation Company had called off the tour scheduled for this Saturday, citing safety concerns.
The company planned to offer 200 employees and their families a tour on the river, the tour operator said.
Nguyen Van My, director of Lua Viet, said after tourist boat accidents in the Ha Long Bay and the Saigon River, it will be difficult for operators to offer sea and river tours, however well the boats are designed.
"The accidents have made Vietnam's tourism sector look bad," he said.
My blamed local authorities, port authorities and related agencies like boat designers and license issuers for the accidents, adding that all efforts to improve the sector's image would be in vain if each agency goes its own way without a coordinating authority.
On the other hand, Pham Ninh, director of Register Agency No.6, which is in charge of registering tourist boats on the Saigon River, including Din Ky's boat, said the boat's register documents showed that it satisfied all requirements.
However, it is unknown if the boat was modified after registering or not, Ninh said in response to recent allegations that the boat's design wasn't proper and that an imbalance in the parts remaining below and above the water put it at risk of capsizing in strong winds.
He also said that whether to open a boat's windows in strong winds depends on specific conditions of where it is operating.
Following the accident, warnings have been issued among waterway agencies in Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong.
Tran The Ky, vice director of HCMC Department of Transport, said the department will start inspecting float restaurant-designed boats, tourist boats and hydrofoils.
At the moment seven floating restaurant boats and hundreds of tourist boats are operating on the Saigon River's section in HCMC.
The Ministry of Transport's inspection teams will start checking passenger boats in the two localities Tuesday, according to Nguyen Van Thuan, chief of the ministry's Transport Safety Department.
The inspection's findings will be the base for standards to be set up exclusively for passenger boats, said Do Trung Hoc, chief of Vietnam Register's waterway department.
According to Hoc, currently both passenger and cargo boats follow the same register procedures, while the former needs stricter ones to prevent accidents.