Thousands of visitors take a chance on to Phu Quoc Island's unsupervised beaches every day, hotel guards and provincial officials say.
Nguyen Phuoc Nghia, the deputy head of the island district's culture and information department, said no official agencies have conducted a survey of the safety of its beaches.
“Usually tourism firms study the risks themselves and alert the tourists on their own,” Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper quoted Nghia as saying.
The paper reported that at least four have drowned on the country’s largest island so far this year--one of the victims was a hotel lifeguard.
On June 16, the 33-year-old lifeguard (identified only as N.T.H.) swam out into rough surf to save a drowning 51-year-old tourist from Hanoi.
But both ended up perishing in the rough waves.
A woman from the southern province of Dong Nai was swept away one evening less than a week later. Hotel guards only recovered her body the following morning when the waves pushed it back to shore.
Certain hotel and resort owners have hired guards to rescue tourists when needed, although they are not professionally trained.
Many of those guards told a Tuoi Tre reporter that they usually warn tourists against venturing into rough surf or swimming at night, but they cannot afford to maintain a round-the-clock patrol to prevent them from sneaking out.
Nguyen Thanh Nhanh, Phu Quoc's police chief, said hotel and resort licenses don't cover beaches, which are under government management.
Under current law, it's entirely up to the hotels whether they hire a lifeguard or not.
The Saigon – Phu Quoc Hotel hired seven lifeguards in 2000 who have been active ever since.
The crew takes turns guarding the beach from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, and puts flags up along the shore when they're off-duty to discourage people from swimming.
Tran Hoang Khai, the team leader, said they maintain a significant supply of lifebuoys and provide tourists with daily weather updates.
Many of the other 44 hotels employ far fewer lifeguards.
Dang Thi Ngoc Quyen, an employee at the Ngan Sao Hotel, said they have three beach guards, each in charge of one shift.
They can swim, but have only been trained in providing first aid, Quyen said.
“Our lifeguards need proper training, but there’s nothing like that in the area,” she said.
Nghia said that even the provincial government isn't authorized to issue sea rescue certificates.
However, the National Tourism Administration agreed to help organize a training course that's scheduled to begin on September 22, he said.
The problem, however, could persist as the district government lacks sufficient funds to maintain such a force.
As such, hotels and tourists may have to continue to help each other keep the beaches safe--the latter by obeying hotel lifeguard instructions and warnings.
Nghia said the district’s fire police have rescue expertise but are too understaffed to maintain a constant beach patrol.