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Dangerous river-way

(China Daily)

08:30, October 25, 2011

Cargo boats with 78 sailors on board, all stranded for more than 10 days in northern Thailand, approach Guanlei Port in Yunnan province on Oct 16. Eleven boats returned safely. [Photo by Cui Haipei / China Daily]

Mekong murders suspend river trade, Cui Haipei reports from Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province.

Mist rises from the water at Guanlei Port in Xishuangbanna and wafts past about 20 cargo vessels neatly docked in the tropical sun. The port, the first in China for boats sailing upstream on the Mekong River, is shrouded in uncommon silence.

On Oct 5 two Chinese boats based in Guanlei - Huaping and Yuxing 8 - were attacked in northern Thailand by an armed gang. Both captains and 11 sailors were murdered, the full complement of both vessels. All had been shot with their hands tied behind their backs.

Since the attack the Yunnan government has not allowed Chinese boats to leave the port for the Mekong. Freighters have turned to road transport which costs four to five times more than waterways. In contrast to Guanlei Port, hundreds of trucks line up to go through customs at Mohan on the China-Laos border.

The boats docked at Guanlei are tended by only captains and a few sailors. More than 1,000 Chinese sailors make their living on the Mekong, but about two-thirds have been given permission to go home, Wu Dechang, captain of the Zhongsheng, said. He smokes cigarettes through a water pipe during the long hours aboard his boat in the harbor.

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