A FATHER who lost his two young sons and a pregnant wife in this weekend’s ferry capsizing described on Tuesday his desperate attempts to save his family, as other survivors struggled to come to terms with their losses.
Families of the 17 drowned victims Monday demanded compensation from the owner of the overloaded boat that capsized in Kratie province Saturday evening, and the district’s police chief awaited a court order to arrest the still-missing ferry owner.
Survivor Eang Sokun lost his family in the disaster, and he described a scene of terrified passengers grasping at one another in the dark in a desperate bid to stay afloat.
Clutching one of his toddler sons in one arm and the hand of his pregnant wife in the other, Eang Sokun struggled to swim to safety when the boat capsized. But his wife was torn from his grip as other victims, their arms flailing wildly, latched on to anything they could to save themselves from drowning.
By the time he reached the shore, grabbing a bamboo pole someone had thrown into the water, his family was gone.
“I am lucky to survive,” Eang Sokun said on Tuesday.
“But I feel like I have died because all my family has died.”
Three days after the disaster, Eang Sokun was still haunted by unanswered questions. Why didn’t the ferry owner, Uch Ry, try to save the other victims, he asked.
Officials say they believe the owner swam to safety and is now in hiding, although the man’s daughter told the Post on Sunday that she thought her father drowned.
The survivors and families of the victims are now demanding compensation from the boat owner’s family. Eang Sokun is demanding US$2,000 for each of his drowned family members. Others have asked for 4 million riels (US$960), said Chhlong district police Chief Hong Sokhly. The boat owner’s family has offered 1 million riels (US$240).
Kratie provincial prosecutor Chat Soreasmei said it was too early to speculate on what charges, if any, the boat owner could face.
Blame for the ferry disaster has been liberally thrown around. An employee of the boat owner who survived the sinking previously said that passengers insisted on cramming onto the 8-metre-long vessel Saturday evening, even though it was clearly overloaded.
Cambodian ferry operators had previously been ordered to equip their vessels with safety equipment, such as life vests, said Ung Chun Huor, director general in the Transportation Department at the Ministry of Public Works.
Implementation, however, is another matter.
“We already instructed them, but we don’t know how the order has been implemented,” Ung Chun Huor said.
The state of the law is equally murky. Ung Chun Huor said his ministry does not have a law pertaining to river transportation – although one is being drafted.
“Next year, the law will be ready,” he said.