HE NOTORIOUS fast boat to Siem Riep suffered another mishap when it capsized 4
km from shore leaving stranded passengers standing on the upturned hull for over
two hours in chest-deep water.
A tremendous thunderstorm whipped up the
usually placid Tonle Sap on the evening of July 1. Waves estimated to be up to
one meter high slammed against the side of the overcrowded ferry carrying 26
foreign tourists and 23 Cambodians including the crew. The boat immediately
began taking on water through open windows.
Frantic passengers tried to
stop the water from rushing in by covering the windows with items like knapsacks
and sheets of canvas.
Jeff McQuaid, an American tourist, said the
captain clearly panicked. "He was telling everyone to move to one side of the
boat then all of a sudden he was telling us to move to the other
The captain also reportedly failed to steer the boat into the wind
and instead turned it parallel to the waves trying to get the boat closer to
shore. It was only a matter of minutes before the boat capsized sending the
passengers sitting on the roof into the water. Those still remaining inside were
turned upside down as the murky brown water filled the cabin completely.
Henneke Nooren from Holland said she pushed one woman out of the window
but as the boat rolled over she became disoriented and could not find her own
way out. "I swam and touched the floor and then swam and touched the roof. I
finally found an open window and pushed myself through but it was pretty
With everyone safely out of the boat there was another moment of
panic as people tried to grab on to anything that was still floating.
McQuaid said: "It took a minute or two before we realized that we could
stand on the hull of the boat but by that time some of the Khmers who couldn't
swim were blown away clinging to a guitar case."
He said an Australian
girl eventually swam out with the boat's life ring and brought them back.
The passengers stood in chest deep water on the hull of the boat for
more than two hours firing off flares and clinging to each other before two
fishing boats appeared to take them to a village near Siem Reap. Miraculously
nobody was seriously injured.
It was well past 10 pm before they finally
arrived in Siem Reap where they received a warm and sympathetic welcome from
Many of the passengers lost everything but were
offered free accommodation and clothes from local people. Moto-drivers offered
to take some of the wearied passengers around the Angkor temples for free and
even bought them lunch and dinner.
The guards at the temple gates waived
their entrance fees for some of the passengers and Kampuchea Airlines flew some
of the more desperate tourists back to Phnom Penh for free.
from the Channel Island of Jersey said: "Just mention that you were on the boat
in the market and they'd give you post cards or drinks. Anything! They were
While some of the tourists left the following day to clear up
things like lost passports and travelers cheques, most stayed on to see the
sights. None of the passengers returned to Phnom Penh by boat.
could have been a terrible tragedy and a disastrous holiday for the 26 foreign
tourists was clearly salvaged by the warm hospitality they received in Siem
The ferry trip to Siem Reap has been plagued by incidents in the
last few months. In March, 60 foreigners had to wade ashore after the ferry
broke down in the milddle of the Tonle Sap. Then on May 14 angry fishmermen
fired on it after it snagged their nets.
Tickets at $16 were still being
sold at the main backpacker hotel the Capitol when the Post visited on July 12.
A man calling himself only Saphal said: "It is not my responsibility." But he
claimed to now be working with more reputable boat owners.
Sous Sokun, a
leading official in the maritime department of the Ministry of Transport only
said 50 percent of boats were licensed and the Ministry had no policy to act
against the owners of boats involved in accidents. He said the case was in the
hands of provincial authorities and it was up to victims to strike their own
deal with the owner on compensation.