Veteran river captain admits worries remain

Updated: 2011-12-10 09:48

By Zhang Yan, Cui Haipei and Guo Anfei (China Daily)

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Veteran river captain admits worries remain

The crew of a private ship look forward to a safe voyage ahead of their departure from Guanlei along the Mekong River in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, on Friday. [Photo by Cui Meng / China Daily]

XISHUANGBANNA, Yunnan - More than 20 cargo ships are neatly docked along Guanlei Port, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province. Along with nine other ships, the Bao Shou will head for Chiang Saen Port in Thailand loaded with 130 tons of pomegranates, apples and other fruit.

The two-deck ship, with a displacement of 250 tons, covered with waterproof cloth, has a draft of 1.3 to 1.4 meters. It will carry edible oil to Myanmar and Laos on the return voyage.

After the massacre of 13 Chinese sailors on Oct 5, the local government suspended shipping on the Mekong River. An attack on 18 Chinese tourists on the river in August forced Chinese tourism companies to suspend operations on this longest river in Southeast Asia.

The old, golden waterway was left with only grief, and Guanlei was almost at a standstill.

"I believe the country has the ability to protect us," said Du Guangyou, captain of Bao Shou, whose wife is the ship's cook. Two of his sailors left because of safety concerns.

From Guanlei, it takes 12 hours for cargo ships to sail to Chiang Saen Port in Thailand. The return upstream takes about 20 hours.

The 50-year-old captain said the amount of personal accident insurance given to each crew member has increased from 100,000 yuan ($15,600) to 500,000 yuan.

In addition, all are provided with five types of social insurance and a housing fund, otherwise "nobody would do this anymore".

Du said the cost of transshipping cargo has risen significantly. The cost per ton of cargo has doubled to 200 yuan for downstream shipping and freight charges upstream have gone from 250 yuan to 350 yuan.

"Of course, our incomes will also go up, but the money is obtained by risking our lives," he said.

Du also feels anxious because patrol ships would return to China after arriving in the Golden Triangle area. "We are worried about safety problems in Thailand, and the patrol details when cargo ships come back are still in the air."

Du, who has worked on the river since 1992, said he could make 7,000 yuan a month at most, and spend 2,000 yuan on living expenses. And endowment insurance would cost the couple 7,000 yuan.

"We plan to retire and live in our hometown of Zhaotong in Yunnan province, drink tea and chat with old friends every day," he said with a smile.

The 4,880-kilometer Mekong, called Lancang in China, is the longest river in Southeast Asia, and has been nicknamed the "Oriental Danube" for its crucial economic rule.

The river is an important shipping route linking China to Southeast Asia. From 2000 to 2009, more than 3 million tons of cargo were shipped from Yunnan along the river.

China Daily