Tourist boats in Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam. EFE/FILE/LUONG THAI LINH

Vietnam suspends hotel project near iconic bay amid protests

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Nov 7 (EFE).- The Vietnamese authorities have put an urban project near the UNESCO heritage site Ha Long Bay on hold amid protests and concerns from environmentalists.

The People’s Committee in Cam Pha City, where the project is located, announced on Tuesday, in a statement on its website, the halt of the 318,000-square-meter project until an evaluation of the environmental impact on the bay.

Ha Long Bay is a World Heritage Site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which attracts around seven million visitors a year.

The bay in the Gulf of Tonkin includes some 1,600 islands and islets featuring spectacular limestone pillars rising from the sea.

The controversy erupted on Sunday when the state-owned newspaper Tien Phong published photos of work in Bai Tu Long Bay, near Ha Long Bay, with earthworks and apparent construction.

Do Gia Capital Limited, the project owner, plans to build a residential and hotel complex with 451 individual homes and several seven-story hotel buildings, as well as commercial and service areas for tourism.

Although the project is not located in the protected area declared World Heritage by UNESCO, Tien Phong reported that the construction site is in Ha Long Bay’s “buffer zone”, which, according to UNESCO, provides an additional layer of protection to the heritage site already affected by the rapid tourism development.

Apart from criticism from environmentalists on social networks, thousands voiced concerns, including those of people close to the authorities.

Truong Quoc Binh, former deputy director of the Department of Cultural Heritage at the Ministry of Culture, warned in the Lam Dong newspaper that the project was a “flagrant violation” of heritage protection laws.

The public outcry prompted the provincial authorities of Quang Ninh to request more information from the local authorities, and the latter decided to suspend the project until the appropriate evaluations were made.

The authorities plan to make an inspection this week and reach a decision by Friday about the project approved in 2021.

Although the Communist Party, which has held power throughout Vietnam since 1975, controls the media and prohibits public protest demonstrations, pressure from citizens, especially since the arrival of social networks, has led to some controversial decisions.

The idyllic Ha Long Bay, which came to prominence with the 1992 French film Indochina, has suffered ecological damage from the huge influx of tourists and the uncontrolled development of some nearby areas.

The mangrove forests that encircle the bay to add immeasurable value to biodiversity are crucial in preventing floods, and the water that reaches the sea is gradually disappearing as new roads, hotels, and docks for the hundreds of visiting boats are built.

The coal mines in proximity, which feed power plants in the surrounding area, have raised alarms among environmentalists in recent years. EFE