Event: Operational accident, 2019

In October 2019, the Port of Ho Chi Minh faced a disruption caused by an operational accident involving a domestic container vessel carrying about 300 containers that capsized on the Long Tau River. The rescue phase lasted one month.

Causes and impact

An engine malfunction was the main factor causing the accident. Several factors amplified the disruption and associated congestion, including: (i) recurrent severe congestion on the inland routes as the 74 terminals in the delta are all located in the city, causing traffic jams and bottlenecks (Nguyen Hoang P., 2019); (ii) large vessels could not access the port through the estuary area because of water depth, sedimentation and tides restrictions; and (iii) an imbalance in port capacity, with Cat Lai port operating at more than 80 per cent of capacity, with the remaining ports having low utilization rates (OOCL Logistics, 2019).

The main terminal at Cat Lai remained severely congested for over a month as large vessels could not pass through, and feeder services were severely delayed, leading to missed connections to feeder vessels. No loss of life was deplored but most of the containers that had been initially carried were lost (OOCL Logistics, Ibid).

Response and mitigation measures

Responses put in place by the Maritime Administration of Ho Chi Minh City included: (i) the mobilization of an emergency team (human resources and vehicles); (ii) setting the prevention of oil or toxic materials’ dispersion as a main priority; (iii) limiting the numbers of transiting ships and blocking the passage during the rescue phases; (iv) limiting the weight of containers, for both inbound and outbound vessels; (v) differentiating throughways between the flow of goods on the southwest or southeast routes; (vi) identifying an alternative route to the blocked canal (Soai Rap channel), which could only handle a few vessels at a time because of its limited water depth; and (vii) and developing Cai Mep port complex, increasing waterway barge connection services, diversifying the service offer between import and export goods, reforming seaport operations and administrative procedure (Ministry of Transport of Viet Nam, 2019).

Lessons learned and good practice

  • Invest in infrastructure and capacity adaptation to ensure that ports and their hinterland connections can service larger vessels, while at the same time ensuring operational agility and minimizes accident risks. For example, in the case of the Port of Ho Chi Minh, an investment plan to further expand the container capacity to meet the demand surge that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic was validated in 2020 (Speedmark, 2021).
  • Plan efficiently the arrival and departure of vessels and regulate traffic, especially in the case of ports such as Ho Chi Minh where the topographic conditions of access channels impose specific criteria and limitations on traffic fluidity.
  • Strengthen cooperation between public and private stakeholders involved in port activities.
  • Promote digital connectivity.