Vietnam minister calls for indefinite ban on Ho Chi Minh City hydrofoils

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A hydrofoil travels between Ho Chi Minh City and the southern beach town of Vung Tau. FILE PHOTO
The Ministry of Transport has called on the government to continue its suspension of hydrofoil service between Ho Chi MInh City and the beach town of Vung Tau indefinitely.
Services came to a halt early this year following a fire.
Minister Dinh La Thang made the proposal after the operators of the high-speed boats pleaded with the Prime Minister to allow them to resume service, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported on Thursday.
The operators insist they have fixed all of the technical faults identified during an inspection by the transport ministry and the HCMC People’s Committee, the municipal government. They further warned that they face the risk of bankruptcy under an indefinite suspension of service.
In his proposed extension of the ban, Thang described the hydrofoils as old, worn out and poorly maintained.
Even if recent repairs were made, he argued, the vessels remain considerably unreliable. According to the minister, the boats pose a threat to maritime safety, particularly given the risk of electrical and engine fires. As a result, he said, they should be totally replaced.
At one point, Thang noted, 22 boats ran between HCMC and Vung Tau, but at the time of the suspension, only 10 were operational due to irreparable wear and tear.
Most of the operational hydrofoils, he noted, had already had their engines replaced. Eight are 20 years old, and two others are 18 and 19 years, Tuoi Tre quoted Thang as saying.
On January 21, the HCMC People’s Committee suspended hydrofoil operations, a day after a boat caught fire on its way to Vung Tau.
Ninety-two passengers, including 37 foreigners, jumped into the waters around the boat to escape the flames. All survived without injury thanks to the captain who piloted the vessel into shallow waters before it burned to cinders.
The accident was only the latest in a long string of breakdowns and mishaps that have occurred along the hydrofoil route in recent years.
Soon after it began operating, in 1993, the high-speed boats become a quick, popular alternative to bus travel.
Before the suspension order, the ten operational boats (operated by three companies) made 19-26 trips every day, carrying nearly 800,000 passengers per year.
The three operators had reported a lull in business following the opening of the HCMC-Long Thanh-Dau Giay expressway on January 2.
The new road has halved the three hour drive between HCMC and Vung Tau.
As a result, the bus takes nearly as much time as the hydrofoil, but costs half the price. Prior to the shutdown a one-way ticket on a hydrofoil sold for VND200,000 (US$9.40).

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