Vietnamese hoist sunken boat after 12 die

Vietnam temporarily docks all overnight tour boats on picturesque Halong Bay.

Last Updated: Feb 18, 2011, 16:37 PM IST

Halong Bay: Vietnam temporarily docked all overnight tour boats on picturesque Halong Bay on Friday, a day after 12 sleeping travelers from nine countries drowned when their vessel suddenly sank while anchored for the night.

Divers fished floating sandals, bags and suntan lotion out of the "Dream Voyage`s" broken windows as crews winched it partially out of the water Friday. It went down before dawn the day before, killing vacationers from the US, Britain, Australia, Japan, Russia, France, Sweden and Switzerland along with their Vietnamese tour guide.

It was the country`s deadliest tour boat accident since opening up to foreign visitors 25 years ago.

The local port authority said on Friday that all overnight tour operations on the bay had temporarily been suspended. Day cruises were not affected.

Most of the travelers were sleeping in the traditional wooden boat`s cabins when it rapidly began taking on water. Nine foreigners and six locals survived by flinging themselves overboard and swimming to other tour boats nearby. Others were trapped inside.

Some passengers had questioned the boat`s safety the night before after feeling it lurch to the right side.

"The boat was sinking, was bending," survivor Stefano Corda, 35, of Palermo, Italy told Associated Press Television News, recalling the feeling that something was wrong while eating dinner about 10 pm. "We said to the crew, `What happened to the boat?` But they replied it was normal."

It was too early to tell whether the tilting feeling was linked to the sinking.

One potential cause could have been the boat`s wooden planks drying out, creating cracks for water to seep inside, said Le Van Cach, director of Tan Phuc maritime rescue company, who was at the scene.

"It could be one of the reasons for a wooden boat to sink in normal weather conditions," he said. "The damage is still underwater at the moment, and I can`t confirm anything."

Friday`s Transport newspaper, published by the government, reported that the boat was put into operation in November 2008 and licensed to provide overnight services. The 94-foot (29-meter) -long, 23-foot (7-meter) -wide vessel was equipped to carry 30 passengers, including 20 people in its 10 cabins. It passed its last safety check four months ago.

Halong Bay is one of Vietnam`s top tourist attractions. Some 2.5 million visitors, about half foreigners, cruise the bay each year to take in its spectacular 1,600 jagged rock formations jutting out of the water to form tiny islands. Many opt for cheap day trips, while others stay on one of the 120 boats offering overnight accommodation, ranging from budget to luxury.

Hundreds of tourists lined up on the port`s main dock Friday morning to take day cruises, undeterred by the disaster.

Bureau Report