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Polluting boats ban changes way of life
By Miao Qing (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-10-27 05:50

Boat owners respond

When asked whether she was aware of the pollution her diesel boat caused, Gao sank into a brief silence but soon started to mumble about the difficulties she expected in making a living in the near future.

She said she has long suffered from heart disease and one of her daughters suffers from mental illness. Another daughter is enrolled at university.

"All we own is this boat. My family do not have any real estate in Qingpu and cannot afford to buy a house there," Gao said. She was born on the boat, as were her mother and grandmother.

In contrast to Gao, Cui Haiping, a 47-year-old farmer from a poor county in the north of neighbouring Jiangsu Province, is new to life on board. He bought a diesel boat for 50,000 yuan (US$6,150) in August last year.

At the time, transporting construction materials was quite profitable as the country was in the midst of a wave of large-scale construction projects.

Since then, Cui has led a life totally different from the farming he used to do at home. He and his wife spend nearly all their time on the boat ferrying building materials between Zhejiang Province and Shanghai.

His ship is relatively big, about 22 metres long and 4.7 metres wide, with a maximum cargo capacity of about 17 tons. A small cabin houses living space and the ship's controls.

According to Cui, one trip usually takes four to five days, earning him between 100 and 200 yuan (US$12.30-24.60).

"I didn't think that a ban on diesel boats would come in so soon. When I bought my boat a year ago, I heard that a national ban of this kind of boat would be issued in 2007," said Cui, after being stopped on the Huangpu River by officials from the Wujing Marine Safety Administrative Agency on October 11.

According to the administration's schedule on implementing the ban, local agents were to force diesel boats off the Huangpu during the first 10 days of October. Since October 11, local agents have been authorized to impose fines on the owners of diesel boats found operating in the forbidden waters.

However, Wang Yongxin, the official who stopped Cui's boat, did not ask him to pay the penalty.

"Apparently, the people who live on boats of this kind are generally poor and belong to the disadvantaged level of society," he said. "We began to inform them of the ban in the middle of August to make sure most of the owners were ready for the change."

Most diesel boat owners are from poor areas of neighbouring Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui provinces, the governments of which have pledged to provide compensation for owners forced to abandon their boats.

Boat owners can also change their engines so they can continue to live and do business on the river. The average cost of such a renovation is at least 20,000 yuan (US$2,460), according to Wang.

The number of diesel boats on the Huangpu River appears to be in decline.

"I have only found six boats of this kind in the past 24 hours," said Wang.

As for boat owner Cui, a return to his original farm life seems inevitable.

He believes the government of Jiangsu Province would pay him 20,000 yuan (US$2,460) compensation for his boat, but he has decided instead "to sell my boat as scrap iron as soon as I return to my hometown," expecting to receive roughly the same amount.

"This is my last trip. I will go home soon," he said.

(China Daily 10/27/2005 page5)

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