On April 24, the Viet Nam News ran an article entitled "Passenger boats safety rules strengthened in Ha Long Bay" in which it listed several safety requirements that passenger boats in Ha Long Bay will need to meet to get operating licences.
One reader had this say on the subject.
I feel a bit in doubt about this article.
I am slightly shocked that so far, it seems that boats are not required to have safety equipment on board, such as gps, radios, life jackets and firefighting equipment.
According to my knowledge of the maritime laws in Viet Nam, all boats, especially passenger boats, should have this equipment on board.
I operate a sailing charter business in Nha Trang and when we received our boats, this was the first thing that was checked by Viet Nam Register. I can only hope that the same regulations apply across the whole country, including Ha Long Bay. On the other hand, it is good that measures are being taken to prevent the sort of tragic accidents that have happened in the past.
Regarding wood versus steel and composite, I don't see why wooden boats would be less safe than boats made from other materials. Viet Nam has a long history of wooden boat building and by discouraging the use of wood, you also disqualify most fishing vessels. Or is the life of a fisherman less important than that of a tourist?
Besides, the skills and quality in composite boat building in Viet Nam are not developed enough to guarantee safer boats.
Instead, the design and construction of boats should be strictly regulated. Viet Nam Register is responsible for approving designs and inspecting construction work, not only for the construction of the hull, but also for all the machinery and equipment on board. It is their duty to ensure that all boats are safe. If there are boats out on the water that don't comply with the regulations it means something has gone wrong with the certification by Viet Nam Register.
The proposed measures partly solve the problem, but they also "kill" the industry. The attractiveness of Ha Long Bay is that you can make overnight trips on traditional boats. Especially now Ha Long Bay is a heritage site, it has even more potential to attract more tourists.
Now the authorities are trying to solve the problem at the operational side, but it would be a better and more sustainable solution to look at the basics: design approval, construction surveys and licensing and registration.
And about painting all the boats white: this makes no sense at all. White is absolutely not the colour that fits traditional boats. It's more for luxury and modern yachts. And in the history of building junks in Viet Nam, I don't believe that they were ever painted white.
Ruud van Putten