CHIANG RAI – More than 10 cargo boats have been grounded in the Mekong River near Chiang Rai after the river receded considerably in recent days, according to the provincial marine office and the Mekong Delta Travel Agency.
The water level has dropped by more than two meters so far, stranding almost a dozen cargo barges near Ban Mong Pa Liew in Myanmar, which is about 50 kilometers from the border district of Chiang Saen in Chiang Rai, said Pagimas Viera, owner of Mekong Delta Travel Agency.
The company operates a river cruise service between Chiang Rai and the south of China.
She said the stranded boats belong to companies registered in China and Laos.
The provincial marine office in Chiang Rai has issued a warning to operators of the boats plying the Mekong water in Chiang Saen, Chiang Khon and Wiang Kaen districts to take precautions.
The office said shallow water could pose a danger to freight boats running between the ports in southern China and Chiang Saen district.
The most affected are the Saen Pee, Mong Pa Liew and Tang Or watercourses in parts of the river where underwater rocks and boulders are found.
Suranat Sirichote, the office chief, said any boat owners who encounter problems navigating through the water channels can contact the center that tracks vessels in the Mekong around the clock.
Ms Pagaimas said apart from the stranded boats, many more cargo vessels are stuck at river ports as they wait for Jinghong dam in southern China to release water and raise the downstream water level.
A source familiar with the issue said before the dam was built, the Mekong was almost dry in several parts at the onset of summer.
After the dam opened, China was able to better control the flow of the international river from its end.
However, the river has become unusually shallow for this time of year even with the stabilizing system afforded by the dam.
Ms Pagaimas agreed that China has released less water since Chinese New Year last month, which has seen a continued drop in the Mekong’s water level.
She said if China discharged water Thursday, it would reach the Thai border in Chiang Rai in three to four days.
Chiang Rai chamber of commerce delegates who visited Yunnan province in southwest China were stranded halfway home as the water became too shallow for their cruise boat to continue, she said.
A smaller boat had to be sent to pick them up.
By Nauvarat Susamran