KUNMING, Oct. 31 (Xinhua) -- At Guanlei Port, Captain Li Jianbing was unloading durians and dried longans off a ship, while also stacking up the potatoes, garlic and air conditioners waiting to be loaded.
The fruit came from a port in Thailand, while the air conditioners, manufactured in China, were bound for the Mekong River.
The Mekong, known as the Lancang in China, rises on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying into the South China Sea.
As the six countries boost trade exchange, the 4,800-km-long waterway is important for people like Li, 52, who has spent most of his life on the river over the past 24 years.
Li was born in southwest China's Yunnan Province. In 1993, he landed a job as a sailor on the river with an annual salary of 30,000 yuan (around 4,500 U.S. dollars).
Compared with other waterways, the Mekong can be very dangerous. Its waterways are very complex.
"Its watercourse is narrow, sometimes with big turns. It is very shallow at some points, and there are many submerged rocks," Li said.
The unfavorable navigation conditions impeded the development of shipping business on the Lancang.
"Our boats were very small and could only transport 50 to 60 tonnes of cargo each time," Li said.
In 2001, China worked with the five ASEAN countries and opened an international shipping lane on the river.
"The navigation conditions have improved since the channel opened, which allows 420-tonne ships to travel on the river," Li said. "Now it only takes nine hours to travel from Guanlei to Chiang Saen Port in Thailand."
In 2016, about 97,000 tonnes of cargo were transported through Guanlei Port, an year-on-year increase of 45.9 percent. In the first nine months of this year, 89,000 tonnes of cargo were handled at the port, up 48.6percent year on year.` Li's annual salary has surged to 80,000 yuan due to the rising cargo volume delivered.
Li said that due to the improved watercourse conditions, there were more than 90 domestic ships traveling along the river, compared with just eight previously.
"More foreign ships are also traveling on the watercourse and we are facing fierce competition," Li said.
Security is another issue for Li as pirates are not unknown.
However, incidents are rare after cross-country joint patrols were launched in December 2011 to tackle safety concerns after a gang hijacked two cargo ships and killed 13 Chinese sailors in Thai waters on Oct. 5, 2011.
The 63rd joint patrol on the Mekong River was completed on Oct. 29, with law enforcement from China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. Seven vessels and 163 law enforcement personnel from the four countries participated.
"Thanks to the protection of the patrol teams, we feel much safer," Li said.
Li has been used to life on the river for many years. In 2011, Li's son followed his father's footstep and joined him onboard as a sailor.
"The river is my second home," Li said. "I expect more cargo to keep us busy, and the people along the river will definitely live a better life."