by Le Hung Vong
Vina Express Company has resumed operation of two of its hydrofoils between HCM City and Vung Tau after their suspension nearly a year ago.
Many passengers took the hydrofoils when they resumed last Tuesday rather than travel by road.
Vuong Ha Nam, who works for on oil company in Vung Tau, said he prefers the hydrofoils because they are more punctual and their services are better than that of buses.
Initially Vina Express will offer four daily services on weekdays and six on weekends when they will depart from HCM City at 7am, 9am, 11am, 2pm, 3pm, and 4.30pm.
Speaking about the resumption, Bui Cong Trung, chairman of Vina Express, said on the first day the vessels had 51 passengers per trip or about 40 per cent of capacity.
There will be 10-12 daily trips from next month when Quang Hung Transportation Co Ltd. (Petro Express) restarts its service to meet the high demand ahead of Tet (Lunar New Year), which falls on February 19 this time.
Nguyen Huu Chien, a regular passenger on the HCM City-Vung Tau route, said many passengers would choose to travel by bus because fares are much lower.
After the recent fuel price cuts, bus companies like Hoa Mai, Thien Phu, and Kumho have lowered the fare on the route from VND100,000 to VND90,000 (from US$4.76 to $4.28).
But Trung said tourists would prefer to travel by hydrofoil.
He said Vina Express has spent billions of dong on renovating the interiors of the vessels and installing modern equipment including a smart fire system after a 20-year-old hydrofoil it operated burst into flames in January this year. It had been carrying 85 passengers.
The HCM City People's Committee suspended the operation of all hydrofoils for safety inspections from January 22.
The suspension is thought to have affected some 12,000 passengers, who had to travel by road instead, according to the city Department of Transport.
A joint team from the transport department, police, HCM City and Ba Ria–Vung Tau Province port authorities, and Transport Registration No 6 was formed to inspect safety regulations and compliance by hydrofoil operators.
Three months after the incident hydrofoil operators wrote to the authorities seeking permission to resume operations, saying the suspension had cost them dear.
In a petition to the authorities, Petro Express said it had spent heavily to upgrade the interior of its hydrofoils and install more onboard safety equipment as required following the transport ministry's inspections.
Tran Quoc Hieu, deputy director of Petro Express, said it cost his firm around VND150 million ($7,140) to take a single hydrofoil to a dock for inspection.
Vina Express, which also petitioned the authorities, said it had to keep incurring wages and insurance along with other management costs despite the suspension.
Trung said his firm had to pay over VND200 million ($9,400) per month in salaries and VND200 million in docking, office, and maintenance costs.
Three companies operated hydrofoil services on the HCM City-Vung Tau route, with Greenlines being the third. They had more than 17 vessels that made an average of 19 trips a day on weekdays and 26 on weekends before the January fire.
Seafood exports hit $7.9b
Viet Nam's seafood exports in December of an estimated $750 million take the year's total to $7.9 billio
n, an 18 per cent rise over 2013 and far higher than the target of $7 billion.
The fisheries sector has a trade surplus of nearly $5 billion, the highest of any sector.
According to the Viet Nam Association of Seafood Exporters and Processors (VASEP), the US was the top importers followed by South Korea, China, Australia, and ASEAN members.
Viet Nam exported seafood to 165 countries and territories.
Despite the decline in demand due to the global economic slump, the Government's sound policies and diligent efforts by seafood enterprises saw the sector do well.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Viet Nam ranks fourth in fisheries exports and is also the world's leading countries in aquaculture.
Under bilateral agreements to be signed with seafood importing countries, especially a free trade agreement between Viet Nam and the EU, from next year exports to these markets will enjoy preferential taxes and offer an opportunity to promote more exports.
But exporters will have to work hard to sustain the country's position by meeting the high quality standards in these markets.
Quality is the key requirement to take on the tough competition in the seafood sector and sustain the high growth rate of 2014.
Real estate sees recovery
With optimism about the country's economy rising, 2015 is expected to mark a recovery of the property market after a six-year slump.
In November 2014 some 1,400 houses were sold in Ha Noi, up 12 per cent compared from the previous month. In the first 11 months of the year nearly 10,000 deals were struck in the capital, almost double the previous year's number.
In HCM City, 8,850 deals were made in the first 11 months for a year-on-year increase of 35 per cent.
The supply of high-priced apartments, set to increase sharply in HCM City, can be seen as a sign of the market's recovery.
Many major housing companies have taken the opportunity to begin construction of luxury apartments, according to news website VnExpress.
Ascott Limited has unveiled the Ascott Waterfront consisting of 222 luxury serviced apartments in District 1 and plans to complete it in early 2016.
Vingroup began work on The Landmark in Binh Thanh District in early December and will inaugurate it at the end of 2017.
The 81-floor skyscraper will have luxury apartments, hotels, and a shopping mall.
Vingroup began to sell condos at Vinhomes Central Park in Ward 22 of HCM City's Binh Thanh District in the last quarter of this year.
Thao Dien Investment Company has put on sale 30 penthouses at its Masteri Thao Dien in District 2 after selling out around 3,000 apartments by late October.
Earlier this month Phat Dat Corporation bought a prime site for over VND500 billion ($23.81 million) in District 5 from Duc Khai Corporation to build The EverRich apartments at a cost of nearly VND1.4 trillion ($66.67 million). The project is scheduled for completion by the end of 2016.
The high-end housing projects announced by developers this month are expected to bring to the market thousands of apartments with a total of over 200,000 square meters.
In the period up to 2017 some 30,000 new luxury apartments will come on the market.
Tran Kim Chung, deputy chief of the Central Institute for Economic Management, said the rebound of the luxury housing segment is seen as a positive sign for the property market. — VNS