When a tourist boat I sank resulting in 12 deaths in Halong Bay on February 16, the story had gone global in a matter of hours. The boat started to sink before dawn near Titov island in Halong Bay, while most of the passengers were sleeping. Fifteen people escaped the boat before being pulled out of the sea by crew from nearby junks, which were also anchored down overnight by the island.
So what happened to the junk that sank? At first it was reported a panel of the ship ripped away and water quickly inundated the hull, pulling the ship down. This had alarm bells ringing over the quality of junks and cruise ships operating in the bay. But according to Quang Ninh police department, human error was to blame. The vessel’s captain and a crew member were duly arrested. Apparently, a valve that allows water to come into the boat to cool the engine was left open while the vessel was anchored for the night, said police spokesman Le Thanh Binh. There were no holes or cracks in the hull. As captain Nguyen Van Minh, 22, and his crew mate Do Van Thang, 27, were in charge of the engine, they were arrested.
At present all overnight cruises operating are under strict supervision before disembarking, and all vessels belonging to Truong Hai Company are banned.The Halong Management Board and Quang Ninh provincial People’s Committee launched the special inspection team which checked more than 500 tour boats operating in the bay last week. The 164 overnight cruise vessels were made a priority.
“We are also checking the knowledge and qualifications of captain and crew members working on all cruises,” said Dang Huy Hau, vice chairman of the committee. “We will decide which ones are suitable for operating overnight cruises and which are not to improve the safety of tourist activities.”
“This is the deadliest tour boat accident since the country opened up to foreign visitors 25 years ago. We will pay an expensive price for this accident,” said Hau before promising, “Those held responsible will be dealt with seriously in accordance with the law.”
Tourism authorities also confirmed that AZ Travel (based in Hanoi’s Old Quarter), which booked tourists onto the ill-fated tour, is now not allowed to deal with international inbound travelers.
The UNCESCO-protected World Heritage Site Halong .Bay is a massive hotspot for I tourism in Vietnam
In light of this awful tragedy in Halong, cruise ship owners and travel companies operating in Halong Bay are out to salvage the World Heritage Site’s tarnished reputation. Understandably, clients and partners need to be reassured that the bay is safe for cruises.
According to Pham Ha, founder and CEO of Luxury Travel Company, staying overnight on the bay is a dream of many tourists, especially ones from Europe and America, when visiting the World Heritage Site. But the accident will concern tourists and dent the prestige of travel companies. Travel companies will also suffer losses when clients decide to change their tour itineraries by cancelling scheduled tours to Halong Bay.
Nguyen Cao Son from Paradise Cruises said when Halong Management Board temporarily banned overnight cruises on Halong Bay, the company put its clients up in the four-star Bai Chay beach resort.
“Paradise Cruises paid all extra expenses for rooms at four star-grade hotels, transportation fees for all guests booked on overnight tours. If anyone wants to cancel their tour, we will refund them totally,” said Son, whose company runs seven four-star cruises serving 150 – 250 guests a day in Halong. After two days docked in the port, Halong Phoenix Cruises is now operating overnight tours again.
“We have to send a message to our local and foreign partners and clients as well as update information on our Facebook and Twitter pages to clarify the current situation and regular maintenances of our cruises,” says Pham Thanh Hung from South Pacific Travel, which manages Halong Phoenix Cruises.
“My thoughts, when I first heard the news, went immediately out to the families of these passengers. I thought of the calls they would be receiving from our corner of the world, communicating this dreadful news, and how their lives would never be the same,” says Jacques Le Fur, the captain of the Emeraude, one of Halong’s most splendid cruise ships…