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Tourist safety in Vietnam's famed bay questioned

Associated Press Modified: October 6, 2012 at 1:16 am •  Published: October 6, 2012

"I was the first person to see the boat coming, but it was too late, it was right next to me already," Chai said. "The boat sank in less than five seconds."

Chai said that people were trying to save themselves in the water, but that one of the strongest swimmers in the group — a former Taiwanese navy officer — had been knocked unconscious in the accident and couldn't help.

Chai said there were no life jackets on the shuttle boat.

"There should have been better safety procedures. On the big boat and our boat, there were no medical or emergency supplies," he said. "How can you run a company like this?"

Luong Dinh Long, a tour operator in Hanoi's Old Quarter, said he feared the accident would drive away tourists.

Long said that after last year's deadly accident, the authorities tightened safety measures that included a requirement that new boats be made of metal, not wood.

"I'm surprised that this accident happened to a luxury cruise company," he said. "These accidents have a big impact on the Vietnamese tourist industry."

Last year, some 6 million tourists visited Vietnam, 360,000 of them from Taiwan. Tourism is a vital industry in the developing country, providing foreign currency and jobs to many thousands. In Taiwan, the government issued a notice to tour agents to try and ensure the safety of the boats on the packages they sell. The impact of the accident in Taiwan was felt harder because three Taiwanese tourists also died Wednesday in a boating accident in the Philippines.

Canadian tourist Deb Haugh said she was planning to visit Halong Bay from Hanoi, but wouldn't stay the night.

"We will go on a day trip, wear our life jackets and hope for the best," she said.