Four dead or missing as torrential rains hit central areas


A street in central Quang Ngai Town was inundated in the flood triggered by heavy rain during the last three days in Quang Ngai Province.

At least four fishermen were killed or reported missing as heavy downpours and strong winds triggered rough seas in central provinces, and experts warned of more rain and flooding in the area.

A fishing vessel capsized off the coast of Mo Duc District in Quang Ngai Province Thursday, with two people missing.

Deputy head of the Border Guard Station No. 296, Mai Ngoc Vien, said the accident occurred at around 7:30 a.m. at the My A estuary when the vessel, owned by Le Van Hung of Son Tinh District, was trying to escape the rough seas at the fishing grounds off Ly Son Island.

Four of the six people on board had swum safely to the shore, he said, adding that the missing people were yet to be identified.

Heavy rains during the past five days also swept away thousands hectares of newly planted rice paddy in Quang Ngai Province’s Son Tinh, Binh Son, Tu Nghia and Mo Duc districts.

Several streets in the province’s Quang Ngai Town were inundated for the last two days, with some sections under water a meter deep.

In Quang Nam Province, border guards Thursday were still searching for Nguyen Ngoc Tam after he and his fishing vessel went missing on Wednesday while fishing off Cham Island. Tam was the only one on board the vessel, according to the guards.

On the same day, rough seas off Cham Island sank another fishing boat belonging to Nguyen Cu from Hoi An Town. Other vessels managed to rescue Cu and his wife Tran Thi Toi, but she died soon after.

More than 200 hectares of paddy and 500 hectares of other crops in Quang Nam Province have been destroyed in the floods.

The Central Hydro-meteorology Forecasting Center has reported unexpectedly heavy downpours in central and south-central provinces during the last two days, with rainfall of up to 200 millimeters in some areas.

The center warned of more floods today in the rivers of central and south central provinces.

Waters are expected to exceed level 3 in Ve, Cai and Kon rivers, while Tra Khuc and Lai Giang rivers were forecasted to exceed level 2.

The Central Committee for Flood Control and Prevention uses a four-grade scale to measure river levels – level 1 (possible flood and inundation), level 2 (dangerous), level 3 (very dangerous) and exceeding level 3 (extremely dangerous).

Reported by Thanh Nien staff

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Cyber crime rising as users remain unaware


Young people at an IT event in Hanoi.

Hi-tech crime is on the upswing in Vietnam and many internet users are not sufficiently aware of the dangers of ineffective information security shields, experts have warned.

“Hackers have targeted not only the information of financial companies, banks and e-commerce websites but also government offices,” says Tran Van Hoa, head of the Ministry of Public Security’s Hi-tech Crime Prevention Department (C15).

He warns that local hackers have become mercenary and begun coordinating their activities with counterparts in other countries. This marks a shift from hackers targeting notoriety, Hoa notes.

“There have been more and more cases [recently] when hackers have attacked servers and websites to access credit card [information] and illegally transfer money,” he says.

Vu Quoc Thanh, vice president of the Vietnam Information Security Association, says there is low awareness of information security among local enterprises and organizations.

A recent survey by Bach Khoa Internetwork Security Center (BKIS) found 300 new viruses being detected every day during the past few months, up to four times the figure for the first six months this year.

In 2007, there were a total of 86,752 viruses detected in Vietnam for a daily average of 18.49.

“Investigations found most of the viruses of Chinese origin installed through the backdoor after an attack to access the computer at any time they want,” says BKIS Director Nguyen Tu Quang.

“Many Internet security centers abroad have also confirmed China to be a giant virus factory,” he adds.

Vietnam used to be one of the 10 countries with the greatest amount of spam emails in the world. Most of the emails, few of them in Vietnamese, probably were sent from zombie computers by botnets under foreign management.

Low awareness

The PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) 2008 Global State of Information Security survey released Saturday indicates Vietnam should pay more attention to information security.

There has always been a great emphasis on the deployment of security-related technologies such as firewalls and anti-virus software in Vietnam, says Henri Hoang, Information Technology (IT) Advisory Director of the PwC office in HCMC.

However, due to the relative lack of maturity and market-penetration of electronic-based financial transactions, there is a general perception that their existing controls will provide sufficient security protection for local firms, he adds.

Vilaiporn Taweelappontong, Partner of Advisory practice of PwC Vietnam, cautions that the abuse of valid user accounts and permissions, and phishing are on the rise.

Phishing is a ploy to get somebody to provide their bank or credit card information by sending e-mails purporting to be from a bank.

The survey strongly recommends that high priority be given over the next 12 months to information security by Asian organizations.

One of the key positive findings of the report is that Asian companies no longer trail North American organizations in establishing leading practices in information security.

Vietnamese firms therefore face very high regional benchmarks, the PwC report says, adding that China, Singapore and Hong Kong’s security capabilities are now on a par with those in North America and in some cases exceed them.

The survey says that in order to have adequate security controls, firms need to have up-to-date security technologies which are supported by well-trained and skilled people.

According to a study released last month by the Vietnam Information Security Association (VNISA), of the 200 companies surveyed, 70 percent were not protected by firewalls and 85 percent didn’t have any information on security policies. About 55 percent cannot even detect attacks, the study found.

Recent cases

In October, a high school student from the central province of Quang Nam was arrested for hacking into local websites.

Authorities have declined to reveal the age or identity of the student who has admitted to hacking several popular websites including 5giay.vn and nhatnghe.com, between October 5 and 8.

An investigation by C15 and the BKIS revealed the student had also asked friends to release viruses through their USB flash drives at games and Internet shops.

In July, more than 10,000 Vietnamese websites crashed, some for up to four days, after the websites of hosting company PA Vietnam were hacked. Technicians said the hackers had modified the websites’ domain name systems (DNS).

PA Vietnam Ltd, an affiliate of the Ministry of Information and Communications’ National Domain Center, hosts 9,738 active domains, accounting for 14.39 percent of the domestic market.

In another case in July, a hacker named X-spider attacked the website of the Vietnam Technology and Commercial Bank. However, the hacker only left a message on the site without causing any further damage.

Reported by Truong Son – Vinh Bao

Tourist arrivals plummet in Vietnam as global downturn bites


Expedited visa application process can boost tourism revenues by 10 percent, an expert says

Vietnam is set to miss its target of attracting five million international tourists this year as arrivals have dropped off sharply, industry officials say.

Hotels and tour operators are struggling and dropping their rates amid the steepest fall in arrivals since the 2003 SARS crisis and then bird flu outbreaks a year later that scared tourists away from Vietnam and other Asian destinations. This time, the global economic downturn is the main factor.

Next year, the tourism sector – which employs more than 10 percent of Vietnam’s workforce – faces zero growth or worse, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Hoang Tuan Anh, warned at a Hanoi conference last week.

The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) has asked the government to spend US$20-30 million on a global marketing campaign to draw back visitors next year and after.

VNAT said such a campaign, which would follow a smaller advertising campaign on CNN and the Discovery Channel, could be financed from a newly-announced one billion dollar economic stimulus package.

“The number of international arrivals has been down for months, but the situation has seriously worsened since October,” said Vu The Binh, a senior official at VNAT.

That month, fewer than 300,000 international visitors arrived in Vietnam, a drop of almost 12 percent since October last year, according to VNAT figures.

By November, arrivals were down 22 percent year-on-year, part of this was due to the shutdown of Thailand’s airports by protesters.

Despite strong growth rates early in 2008, only 3.87 million tourists have come to Vietnam in the year to November, with arrivals from the US, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all down, the tourism ministry said.

“We forecast that arrivals in 2009 will fall 20-30 percent from 2008 because of the global economic crisis,” said Binh. “So we need to invest more in tourism products to make them return to Vietnam in late 2009 and 2010.”

Tourism operators have echoed the complaints.

“Our clients from the US and Europe, especially France, Britain and Germany, have been down since midyear,” said Nguyen Hang Quy of Huong Giang (Perfume River) travel agency in the former royal capital of Hue.

“It’s because of the international downturn,” he told AFP. “And 2009 will be more difficult. We are now trying to seek out new markets in Asia.”

Tourism accounts for 4.5 percent of Vietnam’s emerging economy and had been forecast to generate 3.7 billion dollars this year. The sector makes up 10.8 per cent of the workforce of its 86 million people.

A conference in Hanoi early this month was told that Vietnam could boost tourism revenues by at least 10 percent if it eased up visa regulations and expedited the process through online applications and visas-on-arrival.

The cumbersome visa application process was the “largest obstacle to establishing Vietnam as a global destination,” said a Tourism Working Group paper presented by Baron R. Ah Moo, the CEO of Indochina Hotels and Resorts.

“Due to the processing time… last-minute travel to Vietnam is not an option and has been replaced by weekend trips to Phuket, Bali, Macao and Singapore,” he said in a paper he presented at the Vietnam Business Forum.

Source: AFP

Consumers have it good as electronics prices crash


Robert Vu, marketing director of Samsung Vietnam Electronics Company, says the prices of LCD TVs in Vietnam are 15-20 percent lower than in other countries in the region

The global economic slump has forced producers and distributors of electrical and electronic goods to cut prices, offering consumers a windfall.

But belt-tightening potential buyers have been buying less and less, retailers said, adding the little they buy has been in the low-priced segment.

Since the beginning of this month, retailers in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have joined hands with producers to cut prices by 10-40 percent.

Liquid crystal display (LCD) and Plasma television sets, just two years ago a luxury product, have now come within the reach of many. The prices of the most popular 32-inch LCD TVs are now between VND6.9 million (US$406) and 7.9 million ($465).

Robert Vu, marketing director of  Samsung Vietnam Electronics Company, said the LCD TV prices in Vietnam are 15-20 percent lower than in other regional countries.

Digital cameras, recorders, refrigerators and washing machines have also become 10 percent cheaper since last month.

Vu said the price cut is partly due to the rapid technological evolution, which quickly makes products outdated.

But Mai Duy Bao, marketing director at Philips Vietnam, said the main reason for the falling prices is the pressure on revenues.

“Firms are under pressure to achieve the year’s revenue targets,” he said.

Newswire VietnamNet said in a report last week that some producers and importers of LCD TVs substantially increased their stocks this year based on the good sales last year.

But with inflation taking a toll this year, sales have halved, leaving huge stocks unsold and producers with no choice but to slash prices.

Retailers have helped slash prices by cutting expenses on advertising and marketing.

“Producers and retailers have cut costs as much as possible and have had to forgo profits to keep customers,” Nguyen Minh Thu, marketing and trade director of Thien Hoa retail chain, said.

The VietnamNet report quoted Ngo Thanh Dat, marketing director of the Hanoi-based Pico Plaza retailing center, as saying prices would go down even further from next month as retailers launch intensive promotion campaigns for Tet.

Dat expected the campaigns to focus on price cuts rather than offer gifts or raffle tickets to attract customers.

But for the moment sales remain sluggish, retailers said. Hoang Ngoc Vy, director of Vien Thong A mobile phone chain, said her company’s sales have halved this year.

Besides their fear of continuing inflation and the risk of economic slowdown, many consumers are also expecting prices to fall further, Bui Minh Thu of Gia Thanh retailing center in HCMC said.

Under Vietnam’s commitments to the World Trade Organization, it is set to cut import duties substantially on electrical, electronic, telecom and information technology products in the new year.

Three million or less

In a report last month, market research firm GfK Vietnam revised its forecast of consumer durable sales this year to $3.9 billion, down from its June forecast of $4.07 billion.

Tran Khoa Van, GfK’s country manager, said high inflation has hit purchasing power as consumers grapple with the high costs of food, clothes, travel and entertainment.

Retailers said the last quarter is set to see mostly sales of low-cost electrical and electronic goods.

Most customers buy low-cost cathode-ray-tube TVs, washing machines, fans and irons, a salesperson at Cho Lon supermarket in District 5 said.

Major retailers said goods priced at under VND3 million accounted for up to 75 percent of total sales.

Source: TN, Agencies

Dong tipped to fall further as investors seek dollars


Vietcombank, Vietnam’s top bank to handle trade payments, said US dollar sales more than doubled to $162 million on October 22 from $60 million on October 20

The Vietnamese dong may fall to VND17,000 per dollar soon due to strong demand for the US currency from importers and equity investors, bankers said.

“The rise in the dollar against the dong is not abnormal and is not synonymous with a deep depreciation in the dong,” Doan Huu Tue, of the central bank’s banking development strategy department, was quoted as saying in a government monetary market report.

“After balancing export-import targets, a reasonable exchange rate could be at a level of VND17,000 to a dollar.” He did not say when that level might be reached.

The central bank Monday set the mid-rate for interbank transactions at VND16,517 per dollar, little changed from a month ago.

“Apart from the usual dollar requirement from importers, a significant part of the rise in demand for the greenback came from foreign equity and bond investors who are under a mandate to restructure their portfolios, not just in Vietnam but globally,” an analyst at a bank in Hanoi said.

Stock traders said Monday foreign investors had been net sellers in the past 14 sessions to repatriate funds. The country’s stock market has fallen more than 60 percent so far this year after a gain of 23 percent in 2007.

The State Bank of Vietnam said in a weekly market report seen Monday that its base-rate cut of 1 percentage point to 13 percent early last week also contributed to the weakened dong.

The bank cut its base rate from October 21 as part of efforts to ensure economic growth and limit the impact of the financial crisis.

However, Vietnam’s bonds and currency still gained Monday after a government report showed inflation slowed in October.

The Hanoi-based General Statistics Office estimated on October 25 that prices fell 0.2 percent from September, the first decline on a monthly basis in more than a year and a half.

Government bonds rallied for a third day, with the yield on the benchmark five-year note trimming 9 basis points to 15.72 percent, the lowest since September 17, according to a daily fixing price from 10 banks, compiled by Bloomberg. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

The dong advanced 0.02 percent to VND16,844.5 per dollar as of 4:30 p.m. in Hanoi, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“The central bank is closely monitoring developments in the market in order to take timely measures to stabilize foreign currency demand and supply if needed,” it said in the weekly report.

Vietcombank, Vietnam’s top bank to handle trade payments, said US dollar sales more than doubled to $162 million on October 22 from $60 million on October 20, compared with average daily sales of around $50 million in the first nine months of 2008.

State-run BIDV, Vietnam’s second-largest bank by assets, said dollar sales also more than doubled to $50 million on October 23 from $20 million the previous day, the report said.

On the interbank market, the dollar was trading at VND16,840 to VND16,850 at 03:00 GMT Monday, at the top of the trading band of 2 percent against the central bank’s mid rate.

The interbank’s dollar rate was about 1.5 percent higher than a month ago, Reuters data showed.

Source: Agencies

Gasoline prices cut as oil slips


The Hanoi-based Vietnam National Petroleum, or Petrolimex, which supplies 70 percent of the country’s retail gasoline, has cut prices for the third time since August in response to falling global prices.

It cut the prices of 92-octane gasoline, the most commonly used grade in the country, and 95-octane gasoline by VND500 a liter to VND16,500 and VND17,000 respectively.

The reduction, effective from today, “is in response to the government’s call to retailers to reduce local fuel costs amid the recent drop in world oil prices,” Vuong Thai Dung, Petrolimex deputy chief executive officer told Bloomberg Tuesday.

Crude oil has tumbled almost 38 percent from its July 11 record of US$147.27 a barrel amid a deepening global credit crisis.

But Petrolimex left diesel prices unchanged. Last month, the cost of diesel type 0.25S and 0.05S fell by VND450 per liter to VND15,450 and VND15,500.

But oil companies are sitting on cumulative losses of VND3 trillion ($180.7 million) caused by the government’s efforts to combat inflation by cutting gasoline prices. In an effort to improve their liquidity, the Ministry of Finance announced Monday it would lend the oil companies money.

A month after getting the loans, they can start repaying by drawing VND1,000 per liter from pretax profits, the ministry said.

In August, the government had slashed retail prices by VND2,000 within a span of two weeks.

Vietnam is Asia’s second-largest importer of petrol and diesel after Indonesia. The country, while exporting crude oil, has to import refined oil products because it lacks refineries.

The $2.5 billion Dung Quat refinery, its first, is scheduled to begin operations in February next year with an annual capacity of 6.5 million tons.

Reported by Thanh Nien staff

VNPT slashes int’l phone charges as of September 1

The Vietnam Post and Telecommunications (VNPT) has announced it will cut outgoing international phone charges by around 40% as of September 1, 2008.

VietNamNet Bridge – The Vietnam Post and Telecommunications (VNPT) has announced it will cut outgoing international phone charges by around 40% as of September 1, 2008.

 

Accordingly, the charges for making a direct call (IDD) is VND500 for the first 6-second block and VND60 for each following second.

 

Calls made by 171 service will have charges of VND360 for a 6-second block and VND60 for the subsequent seconds.

 

For individual and organisational subscribers, the charges for IDD calls will be VND60 per a second after the 20th minute.

 

From 11pm to 6am from Monday to Saturday, on Sunday and holiday, the charges for IDD calls will be VND560 for the first 6-second block and VND90 for the subsequent seconds. It will be VND410 for the first 6-second block and VND70 for each next second.

 

Hence, the charges for outgoing international calls will decrease from 37.5% to 40% as of September 1 depending on the calling mode. The new charges will be applied for calls to all countries in the world, using fixed and mobile telephone services of VNPT.

 

On August 2, Viettel also stated it will cut over 50% of charges for international calls. Accordingly the charge for one minute is only VND3,600 compared to the previous charge of VND8,000.

 

(Source: VNE)