Tourists will no longer be able to travel between Ho Chi Minh City and the coastal city of Vung Tau by hydrofoil at the end of 2016, as the entire fleet running the route has been asked to cease services.
In Vietnam, the government stipulates that hydrofoils have a service life of no more than 20 years.
All four hydrofoils currently deployed on the Ho Chi Minh City-Vung Tau route will pass that threshold by this year’s end, according to the Vietnam Register, a transport ministry-run agency in charge of vehicle registration.
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.
Upon receiving the Vietnam Register’s order, two hydrofoil operators, Vina Express and Quang Hung Trans Co., have called on authorities in Ho Chi Minh City and Ba Ria-Vung Tau to petition the transport ministry for service life extensions on their boats.
Vina Express chairman Bui Cong Trung said a Russian-made 150-seat hydrofoil costs US$8 million and the service’s poor booking rates make recouping such a huge investment unlikely.
The Ho Chi Minh City-Vung Tau hydrofoil operation has been in dire straits for the last two years.
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.
When the companies were allowed to resume service in December that year, the fleet was cut from 14 boats to four and the number of operators declined from three to two.
The hardship was exacerbated in 2015, when the Ho Chi Minh City hydrofoil station was relocated from the wharf in Bach Dang Park near the city’s downtown area to Nha Rong Wharf in District 4.
Vina Express and Quang Hung Trans Co. said they have only been able to operate at 40 percent of their capacity since the station relocation.
Hydrofoil operators also attributed their poor business results to 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.
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.