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Fishing blast kills two in Sihanoukville

Two men have died violently in what is the third fatal accident related to illegal dynamite fishing this month.

According to Preah Sihanouk provincial police chief Chuon Narin, Num Chhay Loun, 28, and Kol Chrouk, 29, were killed when a homemade explosive they were using to stun fish blew up prematurely, decapitating Chrouk.

The accident occurred about 8:30am on Monday between the islands of Koh Pring and Traung Trognol, he said, while the men were inside their “basket”, a smaller vessel detached from the main boat.

A third fisherman, Pen Leang, 29, who was not in the basket, was uninjured but arrested as he made landfall. Leang was sent to the provincial court yesterday and has been charged with unintentional murder and failing to report illegal activities, according to deputy police commissioner Kol Phally. The bodies of the deceased were sent to be cremated.

“This is their carelessness,” said police chief Narin of the fatal incident. “They were setting off many explosions per day in order to catch fish . . . It is difficult for us to control [dynamite fishermen],” he added.

Narin said that police were currently searching for the provider of the bomb-making materials as well as the “mastermind” behind this particular operation, whom he believed was still at large.

In a separate incident on the afternoon of January 12, one man in Kratie’s Chet Borie district was killed while crafting a bomb authorities believed he planned to use for freshwater fishing.

“[Kim Sok, 18] was injured in a blast while making a bomb. By the time he got to the hospital, he had lost too much blood and died,” said district police chief Yan Heang.

A third fatal blast occurred only six days earlier on the afternoon of January 6 in Tbong Khmum province, when Chhan Yath, 57, was killed while also preparing a homemade bomb.

“As he was grinding together [the bomb-making materials] in order to make an explosive for fishing, they exploded and he was hit,” said Tep Lon, chief of Kak commune in Ponhea Krek district.

Thun Samorn, director of the Interior Ministry’s department of weapons and explosives, said that his office had disseminated policies to local officials in hopes of curbing the use of homemade or scavenged explosives, but to no avail.

“We do not blame the people so much, but we do place the blame on our local authorities, because sometimes we have detailed instructions, but when they do not implement it in detail like our instructions say,” he said. “Sometimes they go and do it, but sometimes they do not care, and because our commune police have limited time and are busy.”

Paul Ferber, director of Marine Conservation Cambodia, an environmental group that monitors illegal fishing in Kep Bay, said that dynamite fishing has sharply declined in recent years due to a government crackdown on the practice, though added that he had heard recent reports of it still occurring off Sihanoukville.

Ferber described its destructive consequences.

“After dynamite fishing over a reef, you could [destroy] 100 years’ worth of coral growth and it’s gonna take that long to come back,” he said. “It’s a pretty horrific way to fish.”

Additional reporting by Brent Crane

This article has been updated to include comment from the Ministry of Interior's department of weapons and explosives.
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