|Safety first: Students at Gia Viễn C High School in Ninh Bình Province board a ferry to school. — Photo baoninhbinh.org.vn|
HÀ NỘI — Trần Văn Hiếu from Ninh Bình Province’s Gia Trung Commune has been working as a ferryman for 35 years.
The province, famous for its poetic valleys, caves and lakes, has 39 ferry ports and 52 ferries currently in operation. Several efforts to ensure safety for ferry passengers have been made by the authorities and ferrymen in recent years.
Hiếu graduated from high school in 1986, then started taking up his father’s job as a ferryman for an agricultural co-operative. This involved carrying its members across the Hoàng Long River to a neighbouring village for crop cultivation. Four years later, when the co-operative ended, Hiếu bought the ferry and became the owner of the Chấn Hưng ferry port.
He said it required a great deal of nerve and skill to operate a ferry. In the old days, when he was rowing the boat manually, the rainy season was Hiếu’s greatest enemy.
“Big winds, currents and whirlpools threw passengers off balance and caused the boats to tilt,” he said. “The pressure of ensuring safety for passengers was so intense that sometimes I thought of quitting the job. It’s easier now with the motorised boats, but still risky since the engines can malfunction anytime," he added.
“It’s a laborious job that pays close to nothing, but I got used to it over the years, and now feel a deep sense of attachment to it,” Hiếu said.
Dangers come not only from natural factors, but also the passengers themselves, according to Phạm Văn Bổng from Khánh Thành Commune, a ferryman with 35 years’ experience working on the 500-metre Mười ferry – the province’s longest.
“There were times when we were on the verge of physical violence just because I wanted to wait for a few more passengers to save oil consumption, or refused to start the boat until a passenger put on a lifejacket,” Bổng said. “Some passengers got angry at me out of nowhere, probably because of some personal issues they were experiencing,” he added.
But like Hiếu, Bổng doesn’t want to leave the job. “It has been my family’s tradition for three generations, and, against all odds, it gives me joy,” he said.
In the eighties, he ferried many soldiers home from battles. And there were occasions when, thanks to the ferry rides, locals got home just in time to hear the last words from their dying parents, Bổng said
Different measures have been applied in the past years to ensure safety for passengers and the ferrymen, said Lieutenant Colonel Đinh Minh Đức, captain of the waterway traffic police team under the province’s police division. “We frequently patrol the ports, identifying unsafe practices and providing timely interventions,” he said.
A project to create safe practices for ferry ports to prevent children from drowning has been implemented in Mười ferry port since 2014, helping ferrymen and passengers develop cautious habits when using the ferries, Đức said.
Alongside the authorities’ awareness-raising efforts, the ports’ owners have come up with their own ways of helping create a safe environment for passengers. Owner Phạm Văn Bổng at Mười Ferry Port said that in off-peak hours, one of his two ferries was placed on standby to watch out for accidents. “The paths leading to the port have been expanded and concretised to accommodate passengers and vehicles.”
On the other hand, owners of some other ferry ports still have not complied with waterway transport regulations. Three ports have been suspended from operation since the beginning of this year because of expired operating licences and the lack of safety equipment, according to the province’s statistics.
Some passengers, mostly students, won’t wear lifejackets while on the ferries.
“It’s hot to put them on,” a student from Gia Viễn C High School in Gia Trung Commune, said. “Besides, a ferry ride takes only three minutes, and we all know how to swim, so lifejackets are not really necessary.”
The province’s waterway traffic police team would enhance inspections of the ports to tackle the issue, said Lieutenant Colonel Đức.
Passengers who don’t wear lifejackets will be fined according to the 2016 Government’s Decree No 132, he said. — VNS