Unregistered boats rampant on Ha Long Bay

Unregistered boats equipped with no life jackets and steered by unlicensed captains are taking tourists around the famed UNESCO Heritage Site

An aerial photo of Ha Long Bay, off northern Vietnam

Fishing boats are turning themselves into unregistered tourist craft, willing to take holidaymakers around the famed Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam despite failing to meet any of the safety or basic operational standards.

Willing tourists do not have to buy a ticket to board these boats, all they need to do is negotiate a price with the boat owners, then step onto the vessels that have no life jackets, and captains who have no boat operating licenses, Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper reports.

The boats operate out of the Bach Dang fishing port in Ha Long City, off Quang Ninh Province.

Duy, who owns and operates a wooden boat, said a full-day tour around Ha Long costs VND3 million (US$134) and he was taking tourists anywhere they want.

For shorter journeys, the price is VND500,000 ($22.3) per hour. Local fishermen are also willing to take tourists around the bay on their paddling boats for VND200,000 ($8.9) an hour.

A Thanh Nien correspondent chose the hourly rate and was asked to step onto an old, deteriorating boat bearing no registration number.

Upon filling the 30-seater vessel with fellow tourists, Duy started the engine and steered the boat away from the port, leaving the smell of black smoke and oil behind.

Asked why there were no life vests, Duy reassured that the boat would never sink. “Even when it does, I will jump down and rescue you,” he said.

The ‘captain’ also made no secret of the fact that he had no boat operating license.

“This ship is home-run, no need for a license,” he said.

“My dad taught me to operate it; no need for classes.”

The boat then spent more than an hour negotiating rough seas around several areas of Ha Long, with passengers breathing sighs of relief whenever they arrived to shore safely.

There were many other unregistered boats operating on the bay at the same time, some carrying foreign tourists, none of whom were wearing life jackets, according to Thanh Nien.

In addition to the wooden boats, several speedboats with a capacity of up to ten passengers were offering sightseeing tours around Ha Long for about VND15 million ($670).

The Ha Long administration confirmed that these tourist boats have become rampant in fishing ports such as Bach Dang, Hong Ha, Ha Tu and Ha Phong over the last two years.

Last year the city’s police recorded 600 sea transportation offenses, including 20 cases of fishing vessels operating as tourist boats.

Four unregistered boats have been fined in May this year alone, while local authorities are intensifying checks to curb their operations, according to the Ha Long Bay management board.

However, Thanh Nien reported that the boats were still operating publicly when the newspaper's reporters visited the Cot 5 port and Bach Dang fishing deck as recently as Sunday.

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