Some 10 minutes after Vina Express hydrofoil number SG3887 left Bach Dang port in Ho Chi Minh City for Vung Tau, smoke was allegedly detected coming from the boat’s engine compartment, from which it quickly spread.
Initial information found that the fire began at 12:45pm on January 20. There were 92 people on board at the time of the incident including 85 passengers, five crew members, and two waiters.
The boat driver, Le Van Vinh, 58, drove the boat into a muddy riverbank close to Tan Thuan industrial zone in District 7, where he eventually abandoned the hydrofoil.
As the fire broke out and spread quickly, all the passengers panicked and jumped into the river to escape.
Three nearby boats came to their rescue. After being informed of the incident, HCMC port authorities deployed dozens of rescue boats to the scene. All of the people on board were saved.
The hydrofoil was burnt to a skeleton just one hour after the incident, according to Tuoi Tre reporters who were at the scene.
The hydrofoil has since sunk, while a large amount of oil slick is still spreading on the river.
As of 3:30pm, three hours after the incident, all 85 passengers were brought safely to Bach Dang port. Some of them went to Hoa Sen hotel on Dong Khoi Street in District 1 to rest and report their property damage.
Eleven South Korean passengers required health checks and were taken to FV Hospital. Doctors at the hospital reported that all of the passengers are fine.
Explosion in the engine compartment?
Nguyen Van Tuan, one of survivors, told Tuoi Tre that he heard a big explosion from the engine compartment 10 minutes after the hydrofoil departed from Bach Dang port.
When it occurred, the boat staff didn’t issue any announcement about the blast, causing passengers to panic.
Tuan added that black smoke billowed from the compartment, making it hard for many of the passengers to breathe.
Eventually, using a loudspeaker, the boat staff announced that the boat had caught fire and requested that passengers keep calm and wear lifejackets, Tuan said.
Five minutes later, the driver drove the boat into muddy ground close to the riverbank. Many people jumped into the water and managed to swim as far from the boat as possible, afraid of more explosions.
Passenger Doan The Thanh, who was rescued by a fishing boat, told Tuoi Tre that two of his mobile phones and one tablet were damaged in the incident. He said he only received compensation of VND500,000 (US$25) from the boat staff.
Senior lieutenant colonel Dinh Van Ngan, spokesman of HCMC Fire Fighting Department, said no one has been found injured or dead from the incident.
Tran The Ky, deputy director of HCMC Department of Transports, told Tuoi Tre that local authorities will strengthen hydrofoil inspection as Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) is just days away.