On June 6, 2016 the Halong People’s Committee issued new rules on tourist boat travel. The catalyst for the new rules was the capsizing of a ship on the Han River in Danang which led to the tragic death of three people. One of the new rules was interpreted by many operators as an outright ban on tourists standing and sitting on the sundeck and balconies while the vessels are in motion.
This led to widespread condemnation, with many arguing that such a move will both damage the visitor experience and the local economy.
In some cases clients have learned about this supposed new rule and cancelled their tours. Given the fact that spending time on deck is a highlight of most cruises, a regulation that bans tourists from doing so is broadly seen as utterly unworkable.
“When it rains, ships are not allowed to start their journey. When it’s windy, ships are not allowed to start their journey. When there is forecast to be windstorm, ships are not allowed to start their journey. Yes we do but the permitment often release very late in the morning when our guests are on the way from Hanoi to Halong bay. How do we explain to tourists? We’re ashamed,” one cruise ship operator said.
Currently there are around 500 cruise ships with accommodation operating in the waters of Halong bay. In 2015 there were 2.5 million tourists to the bay and the cruise sector employs 10,000 people. The impact of this regulation on the local workforce could therefore be catastrophic.
However, it appears that there has been considerable misinterpretation of the new rules and people are in fact not banned from decks if the boats are properly equipped. “The idea that visitors are banned from going up on the deck is false… 100 per cent of the cruises in Halong bay are designed to have the sundeck,” said Bui Hong Minh, deputy director of Quang Ninh’s Department of Transportation.
He added: “ship owners need to clearly understand the restrictions from the city board. The official dispatch number 2812/UBND concerning safety issues during the rainy and stormy season… is a necessity. The dispatch doesn’t prohibit passengers from standing on the deck or sightseeing in Halong bay.”
Ho Quang Huy, Vice chairman of the People’s Committee of Halong City
"Recently, there have been tornadoes and typhoons around Halong Bay and two tornadoes around Co To island. During the storm season there are possibilities of accidents. On June 6, to mobilise the ship owners to follow the restrictions of waterway travel, Halong City issued rules to increase inspections for safety. However, when the document was issued, there were a few ship owners who objected, creating misunderstandings. The People’s Committee of Halong City has cooperated with the department of Transportation and department of Tourism to continue inspecting and spreading awareness of the rules. The city also issued document number 2559/SGTVT/QLTV on June 13 to further explain the laws of domestic waterway travel in the hope of avoiding misunderstanding terms in the documents."
Bui Hong Minh Deputy director of Quang Ninh’s Department of Transportation
"Ship owners need to clearly understand the restrictions from the city board. The official dispatch number 2812/UBND concerning safety issues during the rainy and stormy season… is a necessity. The dispatch doesn’t prohibit passengers from standing on the deck or sightseeing in Halong bay. Ship owners should study more deeply the official dispatch to avoid misunderstandings. However, since the ship owners don’t clearly understand the restrictions, there have been unnecessary actions such as preventing passengers to go sightseeing on the deck. The Department of Transportation has issued a document explaining the laws of domestic waterway travel, meanwhile requesting Domestic Waterway Transportation Port of Quang Ninh province to instruct the ship crew to organize passengers on the deck so that the situation is safe enough for sightseeing and photographing. In my opinion, ship owners and passengers should study more deeply about the official dispatch to avoid misunderstanding, making bad impact to the image of Halong bay’s tourism environment."
Nguyen Thi Hien, Deputy head of Quang Ninh provincial Traffic Safety Board
"100 per cent of the cruises in Halong bay are designed to have sundecks which are appropriately safe for passengers. I assure that The official dispatch number 2812/UBND issued by Halong City are corresponding to the laws and provincial regulations. The new rules are in fact not banned people going up the decks but the roofs of vessels. Interpretations claiming the new rules ban visitors going up the deck is false, not true to the content in text; also not true to the safe and secure index of the cruise ships on Halong bay. Actually most of the cruise ships on Halong bay are designed to have sundeck and corridor safely and appropriately for visitors to sunbath and walk for sightseeing. Tourists, therefore, can feel free and easy to explore the wonderful landscapes of the world heritage site."
Dang Bao Hieu, Founder of Focus Travel
It would have convincing reasons and strict regulations to control the safety and security for tourists attending cruise tours over Halong bay rather than release a regular to ban tourists standing on the cruise deck.
The authorities must work to make their regulations clearer so that they avoid such a negative reaction. If a ship only has a roof and not a sundeck, of course they have to close the path to the roof or they’re going to be fined, but those ships which do meet the standards relating to sundecks can allow guests to go on the sundeck to sightsee and tan as they wish. I can only say that water travel in Vietnam is still relatively underdeveloped.
By Duc Hanh and Thu Le