Two operators of the hydrofoil route connecting Ho Chi Minh City and the coastal city of Vung Tau are seeking permission to maintain service for another four years, a fortnight before they are forced to cease operations.
Vina Express and Quang Hung Trans Co. are the only two operational companies on the Ho Chi Minh City-Vung Tau route, each having two hydrofoils in their fleet.
The hydrofoil service departs from the Nha Rong Wharf in District 4, Ho Chi Minh City, and arrives at the hydrofoil station in Vung Tau, a popular beach city in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province.
However, both operators have been asked to cease service by the end of this year, as their hydrofoils surpass the service life threshold of 20 years as stipulated by the government.
The companies have recently lodged a competition to local authorities, seeking permission to continue service until the end of 2020.
Quang Hung Trans Co. said it will be a waste of resources if the company has to cease its hydrofoil service by the December 31 deadline.
In January 2014, a hydrofoil carrying 85 passengers, including 37 foreigners, caught fire on the Saigon River, prompting the Ho Chi Minh City administration to suspend all hydrofoil operations. The companies were only allowed to resume service in December that year, with the fleet cut from 14 boats to four and the number of operators declined from three to two.
Quang Hung Trans Co. said it had invested heavily on upgrading the hydrofoils to resume service in 2014, and the investment will be wasted if the service has to cease by this year’s end.
Foreign tourists leave a hydrofoil upon its arrival to Vung Tau.
Authorities back proposal
Upon receiving the petition from the hydrofoil operators, the Ba Ria-Vung Tau administration and Ho Chi Minh City transport department have called on the Ministry of Transport to consider seeking government approval for the companies to continue operating by the end of 2020.
According to the Ba Ria-Vung Tau administration, many foreign tourists are traveling to Vung Tau by hydrofoil so ending the service will affect the tourist arrivals of the coastal city.
In the meantime, the Ho Chi Minh City transport department said the hydrofoil service helps reduce pressure for road traffic and contributes to boost the city’s river tourism development.
The Ho Chi Minh City-Vung Tau hydrofoil service has been in operation for over two decades since its February 1996 inauguration. During its heyday, as many as 21 boats serviced the route’s 500,000 annual passengers.
The service, however, is facing tough competition posed by passenger buses running the same route.
While a roundtrip hydrofoil ticket costs VND200,000-250,000 ($8.9-11) for an adult with a travel time of 1 hour and 20 minutes, it costs no more than VND90,000 ($4) to go by bus.
The passenger bus has emerged as a more attractive choice for tourists after the opening of the Ho Chi Minh City-Long Thanh-Dau Giay expressway in February 2015 cut travel time from 2 hours and 30 minutes to only 1 hour and 45 minutes.