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Ferry owner charged with manslaughter

THE owner of an overloaded ferry that capsized in Kratie province earlier this month has been charged in the deaths of 17 people who drowned in the disaster, even though police have yet to find the man, court officials confirmed Thursday.

Uch Ry was charged with 17 counts of involuntary manslaughter late last week, Kratie provincial prosecutor Sou Rasmei said Thursday.

It comes despite conflicting reports over Uch Ry’s whereabouts – officials believe he is in hiding, whereas his daughter previously told the Post she thought her father had drowned in the disaster.

The charges were filed even after families of the drowning victims agreed to be compensated for the deaths and withdrew their complaints against the ferry owner in civil court. Investigators plan to pursue the case in criminal court, said Som Ravuth, a provincial court clerk.

A representative of the families said they agreed to an offer of US$500 for each victim from the boat owner’s family – a difficult decision for Eang Te, who lost his daughter, his daughter-in-law and two young grandsons in the tragedy.

“I received $2,000 from the ferry owner’s family, but I’m not happy because it is not fair, for my family to have lost four children,” Eang Te said.

The passengers died October 10 after the 8-metre-long boat, jammed with an estimated 30 people and several motorbikes, capsized into the
Mekong.

Witnesses described a frantic scene as terrified villagers struggled to stay afloat in the dark amid heavy rainfall.

Although it is the missing boat owner who was charged, the passengers themselves have also been blamed for crowding onto the tiny boat.

“It was the mistake of the boat owner, but passengers were to be blamed, too,” Eang Sam Ol, an employee who swam to safety after the boat flipped, said on October 11.

“We tried to prohibit them from getting on the boat because it was already full ... but they did not listen and kept rushing onboard,” he said.

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