Fishing boats turned into passenger boats unsafe, insiders say

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Dilapidated fishing boats are being refashioned into tourism boats and restaurant cruisers in what experts say is a dangerous practice.

A report by the Tuoi Tre said Monday that the new trend is to blame as a major cause for fatal boat wrecks. 

"Fishing boats and tourism boats are designed differently and have different technical requirements for safety," Ba Tam, a shipyard owner in the south central province of Binh Thuan, told the newspaper.

A fishing boat has its center of gravity at the fish hold while a tourism boat has its gravity spread evenly around the boat so that it can stay balanced when tourists walk around, according to Tam.

If a fishing boat is changed into a tourism boat, the center of gravity will shift when tourists walk around and the boat could easily upturns in rough water, Tam said.

However, many shipyards in the southern beach town of Vung Tau have been turning fishing boats into tourism boats for customers, the report said.

A shipyard owned by a man named Ninh employs more than 30 workers who are busy with such work all day everyday.

A frame on one 100-ton fishing boat slated for the renovation at the yard was rotted through.

Each fishing boat recycled costs more than VND1 billion (US$48,325) and the job takes around three months, Ninh said.

He said that the price depends on how damaged the boat is, he said.

The man said several people from Ho Chi Minh City and Tien Giang Province in the Mekong Delta have come to Vung Tau to buy old fishing boats and have them changed into passenger boats at his shipyard.

Recycling old boats costs half of the money needed to make a new boat, while the quality "might be the same," Ninh said.

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Loc, owner of a Binh Thuan shipyard that provides the boat recycling service, also said that the renovated boats "are just as safe for passengers as a new passenger boat."

"If the boat carries an average weight of passengers, there's no big deal," he said. "It's okay for the use of the boats to be a little different."

Shipyards have so far refused to take responsible for any possible safety problems on the renovated boats.

Le Dinh Tuan, a lecturer on boat techniology at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Polytechnics, said that the practice of recycling boats "is unsafe."

Fishing boat designs cannot be applied to passenger boats, or tourism or restaurant boats, Tuan said.

He said a proper passenger boat is made with multi-layer cover while fishing boats have only one layer and can thus sink more quickly in case.

Unlicensed drivers

Many passenger boats refurbished from old fishing boats also employ fishermen as their captains.

Hung, driver on a renovated boat in Vung Tau, said that "I never learned to drive a boat."

He works for VND4 million a month and is the only person in the boat except for the passengers, although each passenger boat is required to have a captain, a mechanic and a deck hand.

Another recycled boat driver named Trung also said that he used to go fishing but has switched to driving passenger boats. He's done so for three years without possessing the appropriate driver's license.

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