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3 tour ships banned from river

THREE tourism ships have been suspended from operation along the city's Huangpu River for safety reasons, the local river vessel watchdog said yesterday. "They will not be allowed to operate again until the safety hazards are removed," said Chen Xiuping, the head of city maritime safety administration. The suspended ships were found lacking escape signs and, more ominously, surpassing the original designed waterline when fully loaded, said maritime officials. Other safety problems included drivers unfamiliar not only with equipment but also with potential navigation issues or obstacles in the river. Oversize advertisement boards on the ships were also noted. The potential dangers were found in recent inspections on all tourism ships in service on the river. Officials ordered the checks after two high-profile transport accidents in July - the sinking of a tour ship in Russia in which more than 120 people were killed and the Wenzhou train collision that killed 40, said Chen. There are 38 tourism ships owned by nine companies operating on the Huangpu. During the current off-season, only 26 are now in use, carrying more than 10,000 passengers a day. The shipping firms said they were trying to improve and resume their operations soon but give no timetable. "It (the suspensions) will be an opportunity to reshuffle the industry," said the watchdog. The cruise market has long been plagued by copycat competition and rampant scalpers. Eliminating some unqualified companies will be good for the whole industry, said Wang Tao, an official with the city navigation administration. Maritime officials said the scalpers, who once proliferated along the riverside, have disappeared gradually after continued crackdowns and daily patrols. The tourism market has been stained before as the illegal scalpers work aggressively to sell tickets, pulling out-of-town tourists from downtown to the river tour. Still, tourists said the cruise industry needs further improvement, with a common complaint being that they can't find the tick! et booth s.

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