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Mekong River

Compagnie Fluviale du Mékong predicts a possible end to Mekong river circuits

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Jun 24, 2010

(eTN) The Compagnie Fluviale du Mekong (CFM) is Indochina’s largest cruise company on the Mekong River. CFM has a fleet of four boats. Most of them are built in a traditional way such as the Toum Tiou, a fully-wood-paneled cruise boat built in Cambodia with ten double cabins, or the Lan-Diep, another boat conceived in a colonial style with 22 cabins. CFM flagship is the RV of Indochina, a luxurious boat with 24 cabins offering a colonial ambiance with its wooden panels and high standards of service.

Offering cruises since 2005, today CFM feels increasingly threatened by climate and environment changes along the Mekong River. “We feel more the danger from environment damage than from the competition despite a sharp increase in the number of cruise companies. The Mekong Delta is already close to saturation,” said Yves Boccuni, CFM Ship Manager. Some four companies are now registered on the River with more likely to come. “At some points, it would then be good to create an association of operators to maybe define standards of service, as well as avoiding a collapse in prices,” he suggested.

Cruises on the Mekong River has a relatively short life. “Our high season is determined by the water level on the river and runs from September to April. However, this year, catastrophic climate conditions have seriously altered the season,” told Boccuni. Last April, the inter-governmental Mekong River Commission met in the Thai coastal resort of Hua Hin to discuss issues about the Mekong management.

Earlier this year, Thailand and Laos saw the River dropping to its lowest level in 50 years. Mekong water-level alteration would not only threaten the ecosystem in the region but also deprive local population from their living. Some 65 million people live along the river in six countries (Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam) with fishing, agriculture, and tourism being the main sources of income.

In February and March, boat companies had to suspend cruises in the midst of the high season due to the drought, especially between Thailand's Chiang Rai and Laos' Luang Prabang. In some areas, local authorities saw the Mekong pluging from a normal level of 200 cm to 35 cm with even some waterfalls in Southern Laos (Savannakhet) drying up. Since September 2009, hydrological stations in Yunnan, Thailand, and Laos have recorded rainfall significantly below average. “It is not an incident. I feel that global warming and the eventual effects of China’s dams in the Upper Mekong might lower water in a irreparable way. We certainly will have to rethink Mekong cruises within the next decade,” predicted Boccuni.

The CFM ship manager feels that his company’s fleet of boats would, however, be well adapted. “Our boats are not too large and able to navigate over smaller canals. This is, for example, the case between Ho Chi Minh City and My Tho in Southern Vietnam,” he said. Possibilities would also exist for more short cruises north of Phnom Penh up to the Tonle Sap Lake. However, all Meklong countries and especially China must now act seriously to tackle expected effects of Climate change and environment damage along the river.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has launched a Climate Change Initiative, providing tools such as data and analysis about how climate change is affecting communities and regions with future possible consequences. The MRC is also raising awareness among governments to develop new technologies to mitigate the climate change effects and eventually to soften its social-economic impacts on local populations.

Compagnie Fluviale du Mékong predicts a possible end to Mekong river circuits
Yves Boccuni, Compagnie Fluviale du Mékong Ship Manager / Photo by Luc Citrinot

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