HCM CITY — Improper water traffic management in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, home to a wide interlacing waterway network, is blamed for several serious accidents in recent years.
Local authorities, however, say the problem is rooted in widespread breach of water traffic regulations by the people that operate on the waterways in various capacities.
According to the water traffic police in Can Tho City, they inspected 5,390 vehicles last year, issued fines in about 4,000 cases and warnings in 369 cases. They collected fines of VND3.6 billion (US$ 171,500) in total.
Most of the boat owners who were fined had not registered their vessels with the local authorities and many boat pilots did not have pilot licenses.
Water traffic police in Dong Thap Province, meanwhile, fined a total of 14,768 people for various violations, most of them to do with carrying excess loads.
In Ca Mau Province, 25 waterway traffic accidents were recorded last year for an increase of 78 per cent compared to 2010. Twenty-one people died and nine injured in the accidents.
Many unregistered boats are still operating freely.
In other Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta provinces like Tien Giang, An Giang and Hau Giang, thousands of boats are being used to carry tourists. Many of these boats are former cargo vessels modified to carry passengers, and this can pose risks, experts say.
In fact there have been several traffic accidents involving such passenger boats. In early 2009, a tourist boat carrying 12 people to visit the Cai Rang floating market crashed into a barge nearby. Two people died in the accident.
It was found that the boat had been used to carry vegetables earlier and that its crew did not have valid pilot licences. Similar boats can be easily found in Can Tho City as well.
Moreover, senior lieutenant colonel Nguyen Huu Lap, a police officer in the city, said there was no regulation to fine boat passengers who didn't wear lifejackets.
They also could not fine the boat pilots with low income, so these people were often let off with warnings by the local police, he said.
Besides tourist boats, the numerous floating restaurants in the delta also pose a safety risk. Several such restaurants do not meet safety requirements, according to Nguyen Huu Lap, deputy head of Can Tho City's Department of Public Security's Water Traffic Section.
Last year, the My Khanh floating restaurant in Can Tho sank when 225 people were on board. Fortunately the boat was near the riverbank, so only two people were injured.
Several floating restaurants in the provinces of An Giang, Tien Giang and Vinh Long were those that have been modified from small barges, local officials said. — VNS