More than 30 Vietnamese tourists have ‘disappeared’ since their trip to the South Korean island of Jeju last week and are still at large, with their personal information made public by local authorities, the Vietnamese Embassy in the East Asian country said on Monday.
It was confirmed that 59 visitors from Vietnam had vanished before their six-day trip to the island was due to end on Sunday, according to an embassy representative. Earlier reports had said there were 56 visitors.
South Korean police have caught 27 of them, and deported all but one who is still being held in the East Asian country as he lost his passport, according to the Vietnamese embassy source.
The 32 visitors who remain missing might be hiding somewhere on the island, the embassy representative said.
According to information made public by South Korean authorities, the visitors include 25 men and seven women, aged from 19 to 52.
The 59 tourists who disappeared during their Jeju trip were taken to the island by four Vietnamese tour organizers, namely New World Tourism, Vietrantour, Hanoiredtours, and Hoang Viet Travel.
On Monday, the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) said it had requested the four travel firms to report on the disappearance of their customers.
Nguyen Cong Hoan, deputy general director of Hanoiredtours, reported to the VNAT later the same day that 39 out of the 40 tourists the company took to Jeju had returned to Vietnam.
The remaining one is being held to complete deportation procedures, he said.
Hoang Viet Travel said it had been notified by the South Korean side that ten of its customers who vanished mysteriously had been arrested by local authorities.
Vietrantour had three of its customers disappear and is still not in contact with them, according to the company's report.
The four tour organizers sent a total of 155 Vietnamese tourists to Jeju Island, where a South Korean travel firm was in charge of showing them around.
The Vietnamese companies do not know of the exact itinerary of their customers, or what the tourists really did on the island, they admitted.
These tour organizers may have their license to offer outbound tour packages revoked, according to the VNAT.
“The incident has left a negative impact on the image of Vietnamese people as well as the country’s tourism in the eyes of people around the world,” VNAT deputy head Ngo Hoai Chung said.
The tourism watchdog has also released a directive, requesting that local travel firms carefully check the identities of their customers before taking them on outbound packages.
The disappearance of the Vietnamese tourists from Jeju Island was first reported by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency on Friday.
These visitors, as well as those from other countries that are not linked to terrorism, are allowed to enter and stay on Jeju without a visa for up to 30 days for tourism purposes, according to a special act applicable to the island.
The local immigration office is therefore investigating whether they were trying to look for illegal employment in South Korea, according to Yonhap.
In the wake of the incident, South Korean police have expressed suspicion that there is a ring illegally bringing Vietnamese into their country through Jeju Island.