Captain charged in Vietnam drowning: Official

A Vietnamese tour boat sank last week, killing 12 people, mostly foreigners.

Updated: Feb 21, 2011, 13:55 PM IST

Hanoi: The captain and chief engineer of a Vietnamese tour boat that sank last week, killing 12 people, have been charged with violating safety regulations, a senior local official said on Monday.

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

The offence can bring several years` imprisonment upon conviction.

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, which is in northeastern Quang Ninh province.

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 nine tourists who escaped with their lives. Six crewmen also survived.

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

Normally, a valve and pump ensure removal of any water which 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 is not the final conclusion.

The two men arrested are still being questioned and the boat remains under 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.

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 tragedy, 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 tragedy have been unsuccessful, but the Tuoi Tre newspaper reported the boat which 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 also included visitors from the United States, Sweden, Britain, Japan, France and Switzerland.

An Australian of Vietnamese origin and a tour guide from Vietnam were also among the victims, the official Vietnam News Agency said.

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.

Bureau Report