Police in the southern province of Binh Duong Saturday detained three people as they investigated the sinking of a tourist boat that killed 16 people, including four Chinese, the day before.
According to police, Le Van Duc, captain of the double-decker boat that was carrying 28 people when the accident happened on the Saigon River at the Din Ky Tourism area in Binh Nham Commune, failed to show necessary documents showing he was qualified to pilot the vessel.
Meanwhile, a source told Thanh Nien that initial investigations have found that the registration certificate of the boat, designed as a floating restaurant, had expired in February.
"If a boat isn't eligible for operation and its captain isn't trained and licensed in accordance with regulations, its owner and driver have to be held responsible for accidents," an officer with the Binh Duong waterway police said.
Le Van Quang, manager of the boat, and Dinh Van Quan, manager of floating restaurants in the tourism area, were taken into custody together with Duc.
An investigator who wished to stay unnamed said that the boat was not designed properly, and an imbalance in the parts that remain below and above the water put it at risk of capsizing in strong winds.
To make matters worse, all the windows on the boat were closed on the fatal night, he said.
Phan Van Chuc, director of Binh Duong Province's Hydrometeorology Center, also told the Tuoi Tre newspaper that the crew should have opened the windows.
According to witnesses, the boat left the port on the Saigon River at around 7 p.m. Friday, but 15 minutes later it started raining heavily, so some passengers urged the crew to return.
The boat, which can carry more than 50 passengers, was about 100 meters from the bank when it capsized and sank.
Five passengers and seven crew members managed to swim to safety, while others drowned.
Rescuers found 15 bodies early Saturday morning. Later that day they salvaged the boat, but were yet to find the body of a nine-year-old boy believed to be the last victim, the VnExpress website reported.
Hoang Van Dong, 24, one of the survivors, said the 21 passengers were attending the birthday party of the three-year-old son of his Chinese boss, Guo Liangcai.
Guo, who owns the Lan An Company in Thuan An Town, lost his wife, his two children, his mother-in-law and four of his Chinese friends in the accident.
The tragic accident prompted the Ho Chi Minh City Inland Waterway Port Authority to hold a meeting where it issued a call for heightened vigilance to prevent similar accidents on the Saigon River section in the city.
"Tourist boat accidents have never taken place in HCMC, but we shouldn't be careless," said Nguyen Ngoc Tuan, deputy director of the agency under the city's Department of Transport.
"We'll conduct frequent inspections, because accidents are unpredictable."
According to Tuan, six tourist boats with large capacities are currently licensed to operate between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the river, offering services like food and drink as well as musical performances.
Do Thanh Son, head of Bach Dang Port's management board, many tourist boats were operating at the famous port, with some carrying up to 700-900 passengers.
They are supervised by the port's management board and frequently checked by the HCMC Port Authority and transport department, he said.
Recently the port authorities have begun conducting everyday checks before the boats leave the port, Tuan added
When asked if the boats could withstand strong winds like those that caused the boat in Binh Duong to capsize, Tuan said only the registration agency could answer the question.
Senior officials of the transport department and the Register Agency No.6, which is in charge of issuing safety certificates for tourist boats in HCMC, weren't available for comment.
Nguyen Viet Anh, head of the travel division under the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, told the Tuoi Tre newspaper that his department will cooperate with the transport department to conduct safety checks next week of tourist boats operating on the river section in HCMC.