Passenger buses owned by a transport company traveling between Hanoi and the northern province of Lao Cai have publicly operated on an unlicensed route to Sapa for over a year, regardless of checks by traffic officials and policemen.
It has been alleged that the ‘neglect’ of relevant officials indirectly caused the fatal bus crash on September 2 that killed 11 people and injured 41.
The wrecked bus is registered to the brand name of Sao Viet, a trademark owned by the Minh Thanh Phat transport company, based in Hanoi. It was designed to have 46 sleeper seats and one sitting seat, but it was carrying 53 people, including two drivers and a driver’s assistant, at the time of the accident.
It is hard to believe that traffic officials and policemen have failed to discover that Sao Viet buses were using an unlicensed route for over a year, but this is exactly what has happened.
After the accident, relevant authorities were ordered to launch a full investigation into the crash, and to confirm if traffic officials and policemen had received ‘protection money’ from Sao Viet to ignore the ‘consistent violations’.
Regular violations for over a year
The Sao Viet buses are licensed to carry passengers between Hanoi and Pho Moi in Lao Cai Town, a distance of around 270km.
However, the transport company illegally ‘lengthened’ the route another 38km, from Pho Moi to Sapa.
Information from Sao Viet show that it has eight daily buses transporting passengers from Hanoi to Sapa for VND180,000 (US$8.7).
Do Huu Bang, director of Minh Thanh Phat, admitted to Tuoi Tre that it is wrong to carry passengers on an unlicensed route.
Nguyen Van Thao, deputy director of the Lao Cai Department of Transport, confirmed that Sao Viet buses have illegally transported passengers to Sapa.
The bus involved in the September 2 accident departed from My Dinh bus station in Hanoi and drove directly to Sapa, without stopping at Pho Moi bus station, Thao said.
It is also wrong for the company to paint its route on the bus as ‘Hanoi – Lao Cai – Sapa’, he added.
“In my view, this should be dealt with as a criminal case, because the fatal crash happened on a section of road the company is not allowed to use,” Thao suggested.
In the mean time, Colonel Nguyen Thien Tuan, head of the traffic police department of Lao Cai Province, confirmed to Tuoi Tre that, “Sao Viet buses in Sapa are licensed by the local transport department. I asked my staff to find the decision to see when it was approved.”
Paying for protection?
An investigation by Tuoi Tre Newspaper has revealed that Sao Viet has ‘connections’ with at least one official at the Department of Transport and a traffic police chief of Lao Cai Province.
Bang, director of the company that owns Sao Viet, is related to Nguyen Thi Minh, an official of the technical registry unit under the Lao Cai transport department.
Bang admitted that Minh managed all ‘background’ affairs of Sao Viet buses in Lao Cai.
Minh’s husband is Phan Tat Thang, head of the traffic police department of Lao Cai Province.
It is alleged that the family relations between Bang, Minh, and Thang have helped Sao Viet buses regularly violate regulations for a over a year without consequence.
When this information was shared with Colonel Tuan, he simply said, “How can I know this?”
Tuan suggested waiting for the results of the official investigation.