Captain held over Vietnam tour drownings

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The captain and engineer of a Vietnamese tour boat that sank last week killing 12 people have been arrested on safety violation charges punishable by a jail sentence, an official said Monday.

Captain held over Vietnam tour drownings

Captain Nguyen Van Minh, 22, and chief engineer Do Van Thang, 27, were arrested Saturday on criminal charges of violating water traffic safety rules, said Dang Duy Hau, deputy chairman of the Quang Ninh provincial government.

Police have four months to further investigate and report to prosecutors, who will then decide whether the case should be handed over to a court. They could face several years in jail if convicted.

The dead, mostly foreign tourists in their 20s, were killed when their boat “Dream Voyage” suddenly sank as they slept in Halong Bay, one of the country’s most popular attractions.

The boat took on water so fast that sleeping passengers had almost no time to escape the torrent that filled their cabins, said one of the nine tourists who escaped with their lives. Six crewmen also survived.

The most likely cause of the accident was water leakage resulting from human error, Hau said.

Normally a valve and pump ensure removal of any water that enters the boat while it moves. But the boat was stationary at the time of the accident, meaning the crew possibly forgot to close the valve, he said, emphasising that this was not the final conclusion.

A government report added that the captain and crew went off-duty that night, and by the time they discovered the water leak it was too late. A broken pipe also contributed to the problem, it said.

The captain and engineer were still being questioned and the boat remained the subject of an investigation, Hau said.

“At the time of the accident the weather was good so all outside impacts are excluded,” he added.

A tourism official has called it the worst-ever tourist accident in Vietnam, which began opening to the outside world 25 years ago.

A source familiar with marine practices in Halong Bay has told AFP that the tour vessels often lack sophisticated electronic equipment and crews may not have adequate training. The source declined to be named.

At the weekend, Vu Tuan Hung, of the Quang Ninh water police, confirmed media reports that the boat owner, Truong Hai Co, was involved in another deadly accident in September 2009 when it operated under a different name.

In the previous incident a boat belonging to the company sank during heavy rain, killing three foreign tourists and a local guide, Thanh Nien newspaper said in a weekend report.

After the earlier incident Thanh Nien said the boat, which was new, had breached several regulations, prompting authorities to pledge stricter enforcement of seaworthiness standards and registration rules.

Attempts to reach the company Truong Hai since Thursday’s sinking have been unsuccessful, but the Tuoi Tre newspaper reported the boat that sank had been in service since 2008.

Truong Hai has been ordered to suspend operations but other tourism activities at the bay remain “normal”, according to Hau. He said authorities have begun inspecting the 100 or so boats licensed for night operation.

Among those killed were a Russian mother and her daughter aged in her 20s, an official from Moscow’s embassy said. The dead included visitors from the United States, Sweden, Britain, Japan, France and Switzerland.

Another of the dead was Vietnamese but held Australian permanent residency, Canberra said. A Vietnamese tour guide also died.

Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its stunning limestone cliffs, about 160 kilometres (100 miles) east of the capital Hanoi. It attracted more than two million visitors last year.

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Category: News @ Halong Bay