Vietnam hub suspends all hydrofoils to Vung Tau after fire

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Following a fire on a Vina Express boat from HCMC to the beach town of Vung Tau on Monday, Ho Chi Minh City authorities have halted the use of all hydrofoils in the city pending safety inspections.

At an unusual meeting city authorities held Tuesday to deal with the incident, HCMC mayor Le Hoang Quan ordered that the use of all hydrofoils in the city be suspended for inspections of the vessels.

The suspension takes effect immediately. It is not clear yet when it will be lifted.

Quan also ordered city police to investigate why rescuers did not respond to the accident as quickly as they should have.

He requested that the transport ministry inspect agencies tasked with conducting periodical inspections -- a compulsory process to endure that means of transport are safe for operations -- of all hydrofoils known to operate in the city.

"It needs to clarify why the incident happened only a few days after it [the boat] was inspected [on January 17]," he said

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The Vina Express 1 vessel was carrying 85 passengers --37 of them foreigners according to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper -- and seven crew members when it caught fire some 15 minutes after departing the Bach Dang Wharf in downtown Ho Chi Minh City on January 20.

Although the scene was chaotic as the passengers jumped off the boat and into the water, everyone was safe as the captain had piloted the vessel to shallow waters near shore.

No one was injured in the accident.

Some of the passengers were transferred to another boat to Vung Tau, others were provided hotel rooms and some locals returned home.

City authorities have instructed the hydrofoil's owner, Vina Express Joint Stock Company, to compensate passengers for their damages.

Before the "‹fire, hydrofoil companies "‹were already concerned "‹about a major slowdown in business after the HCMC-Long Thanh Dau Giay expressway "‹opened on January 2, shortening the distance from HCMC to Vung Tau by almost an hour.

Le Huy Thao, director of Vinalines one of the three hydrofoil companies on"‹ the"‹ HCMC-Vung Tau route told Sai Gon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing) newspaper "‹that the number of passengers "‹was declining significantly. "‹

Previously, it took three hours to go to Vung Tau by bus, but this time has been halved "‹by the expressway, "‹which now takes "‹almost the same "‹amount of "‹time "‹as the hydrofoil"‹,"‹ while "‹bus tickets are only half "‹the "‹hydrofoil's fare (VND200,000, or US$9.4), he said.

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