Safety inspections of the pleasure craft that operate in Ha Long Bay will be stepped up in the wake of last week’s drowning, when a boat carrying 25 people flipped over in a sudden squall, local authorities said.
Two British tourists, a Frenchman, a Vietnamese tour guide and a local crew member drowned in the choppy waters of Ha Long Bay in the northern province of Quang Ninh.
The two British victims were Karen Puddifoot, 27, and Tim Roney, 22, and the Frenchman was Jeremi Berard, 27, according to Vietnamese police sources.
Roney was from Sarratt, Hertfordshire and Puddifoot from Northwood to the northwest of London, the police said.
The boat was returning to port the evening of September 23 when heavy rain and strong winds tore through the bay and overturned the vessel with 25 passengers and a crew of seven on board.
Only 21 passengers embarked from Bai Chay at noon that day, according to the register. The two Brits and the Frenchman who would drown came on board with another French tourist when the boat called at Ti-top Island.
The new vessel worth over VND10 billion (US$560,500) had just done its only trial run to test the boat’s equipment and seaworthiness, and the crew’s ability to serve and please foreign tourists.
Insurance and compensation
“This is a clear breach of safety regulations. We will investigate the incident and initiate criminal proceedings if there is enough evidence to warrant it,” office manager Vu Hong Thanh of the Quang Ninh Province People’s Committee told Thanh Nien Weekly via the phone.
Thanh said local authorities would act by making sure that, in the future, tourist boats operating in Ha Long Bay were seaworthy and properly registered, and that their captains knew about docking and anchorage safety.
Registration of the three-decker boat, more than 30 meters long and 2.1 meters abeam, was completed on September 9.
Thanh of the Quang Ninh People’s Committee said the province had offered to help the victims’ families and was coordinating with the French and British embassies to deal with the case in line with international practice.
For the families of the dead Vietnamese, Quang Ninh has offered VND5 million each.
As the bodies of the three dead foreigners lay in the mortuary of Bai Chay Hospital in Ha Long Town, the British Embassy said it was working with the local authorities to make all the necessary arrangements.
“The victims' families have been informed about the accident. We are in the process of repatriating the remains back to the UK. The embassy will do its best to ensure the victims' families receive all necessary consular support,” the embassy said in the statement.
Regarding insurance pay-outs, Ngo Van Hung, head of Ha Long Bay Management, said the families of the three drowned foreigners would receive compensation of VND20 million ($1,100) each as the tickets for the boat trip included insurance.
The Vietnamese tour guide and crew member who died had no tickets as they had no need for them. However, their families should receive compensation anyway as the registered passengers and crew were insured by the boat’s owner, as required by law.
Since the names of the three dead foreigners were not on the passenger list when the boat left Bai Chay, the insurance company will have to study their cases before deciding whether to pay out or not.
The swamped vessel itself was not that damaged as there was no collision. “After being salvaged, the boat is still in reasonable condition and its hull is undamaged,” shipping registrar Viet said.
Last year some 2.65 million holidaymakers, including 1.71 million foreigners, were drawn to the dramatic limestone peaks of Ha Long Bay, according to figures supplied by the provincial tourism department.
WHY THE BOAT CAPSIZED
Several regulations were breached by the operators and the captain of the boat that capsized and sank.
Since the vessel had yet to be licensed for overnight sailing, the regulations required that it return to port by 7 p.m., so it was overdue.
Furthermore, though the registered passengers and crew were insured by the boat owner, the vessel itself was not.
By law, sea-going vessels sailing from Ha Long to Cat Ba Island or to Van Gia [at Mong Cai on the Chinese border] must meet the S1 set of standards, so they must be sturdy enough to ride out two-meter waves without incident.
Boats that confine themselves to Ha Long Bay need only meet S2 standards, which include handling 1.2-meter waves.
“All of the more than 400 boats operating in Ha Long Bay conform to S1,” Viet said.
The length of a cabin on the boat’s third deck had been doubled from the original design.
That added to the ship’s weigh, and changing its center of gravity, and presented a larger face to the wind, an expert who wished to remain anonymous said.
Quang Ninh shipping registrar Phung Ngoc Viet saw it differently and blamed the accident on the wind alone.
The strong winds and choppy seas lasted for only 15 to 20 minutes, but they came without warning.
Bui Minh Tang, director of the National Weather Center, said that squalls like last week’s were caused by unstable air masses.
“It is difficult to forecast them. Moreover, we don’t have enough weather stations to catch and observe the phenomenon,” Tang said.
Reported by Bao Van