Cruise ships left idle, owners seek help
Cruise owners are worried as their cruise ships have been unused for many months because of Covid-19, while they still have to pay hundreds of million of dong in mooring fees.
An Son Lam, Director of Indochina Sails JSC, told VietNamNet he will sell his cruise ship at a loss if he can buy a buyer, and he will never enter the cruise business again.
Lam said he is facing difficulties because of the pandemic. HCM City has a long river, which has favorable conditions to develop cruises, but the city still doesn’t have a true tourism harbor. As a result, cruise ships have to anchor at locations which are not designed for them. For example, the ships have to anchor at Sai Gon Port designed for seagoing ships, not for river steamers. So, cruise ships have to pay high mooring fees, though they don’t have passengers to serve.
“It costs at least VND200 million a month to anchor a cruise ship. Besides, ship owners also have to pay for the crew. The fee is too high, which is equal to the ships of international stature,” he said. “Meanwhile, there is no client."
Sai Gon Port authorities decided to share difficulties with ship owners by offering a 50 percent reduction in mooring fees. However, the owners said the fees are still a terrible burden for them.
According to Nguyen Hai Linh, the owner of Elisa ship, Sai Gon Port is imposing fees of seaports on waterway ships. Meanwhile, cruises should be allowed to enjoy the policy for inland wharf, with much lower mooring fees.
In addition to mooring fee, the ships have other kinds of expenses, including bank debts, pay to workers, and ship maintenance fees.
Cruise ships operating on the Sai Gon River have sent a petition to the HCM City Party Committee, People’s Committee, People’s Council and appropriate agencies.
Prior to that, they asked Sai Gon Port to reduce the mooring fee, but the port authorities rejected the proposal. In order to rescue the specific type of tourism, they want the agencies to help slash mooring fees further, and create favorable conditions for them to find places to anchor ships free of charge or with reasonable fees.
“We have proposed creating a ‘soft corridor’ to specify a ‘boundary’ between domestic ships with restaurants and international cruise ships, which will help control people getting on/off the ships and apply suitable fees. However, there has been no reply,” they complained.
“Our ships also have to deal with border guards because domestic and international travelers go through the same gate. This hinders tourism development in the city,” they wrote.
The creation of a ‘soft corridor’ will lessen travelers' inconveniences when using waterway tourism services at the port.
According to Viet Princess Cruises Corporation’s President Truong Quang Cuong, in the US, Europe, and developed countries, and even in Cambodia and Laos, the best attractions are reserved for cruise terminals. In Vietnam, in Da Nang and My Tho in Tien Giang, cruise ports or tourist piers are all located in the center of the cities, thus making it convenient for domestic and international travelers to have dinner on the river.
As for HCM City, the municipal authorities in 2015 removed cruise ships from Bach Dang Wharf in district 1 to Sai Gon Port in District 4, which has affected the reception of travelers. Meanwhile, inland wharfs for restaurant and passenger cruises are at Mui Den Do (Saigon Peninsula) in district 7, which is 10 kilometers from the city center.
“I don’t know what the future of waterway tourism in HCM City will be like. We understand customers’ demands and such planning is not seen anywhere else,” Cuong said.
“No one is willing to spend one and half hours to move from the center of the city to the wharf just to get into a cruise ship for a 2-hour dinner,” he said.
Although tourist sites in Quang Ninh Province have been allowed to open from June 8, Ha Long City, the home to Ha Long Bay – a world natural heritage site - has not had visitors because of the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.
Vietnam welcomed over 15,000 foreign tourists in November, up 42.4 percent from the figure in October, the General Statistics Office (GSO) announced on November 29.