Two rowers from a boat racing team in town for the Water Festival are missing, presumed dead, after their vessel collided with a cruise ship on the Tonle Sap river this morning.
The men – identified as Chhoen Chorn, 36, and Sok Chan Chesda, 18 – were among nine members of a team from Phnom Penh’s Prek Thmei commune preparing to practice ahead of a race this evening when their craft was clipped by the 223-foot Cruiseco Adventurer, a river cruise ship that runs between Vietnam and Cambodia.
Ouch Soy, 56, a crewman sitting next to the two victims at the time, said their vessel was caught in the path of the faster cruise ship and struck on the left-hand side approximately four metres from the stern at about 7:15 am.
“The ship blew their horn but our boat was slow and could not move away,” Soy said.
“All of the people jumped out of the boat, which was broken in the crash. When the ship hit us, I jumped out of the boat, while Chorn and Chesda did not jump. They just sat, ducked their heads and disappeared into the water.”
“After [the crew from the Adventurer] threw the life-saving devices, they drove away without pulling us from the water.”
Soy said the company and crew had begun discussions about a settlement, though the amount of compensation would be determined after the pair’s bodies are found.
An email to the Australia-based Cruiseco Line, which also operates tours in Myanmar, has yet to be answered.
Crewman Yang Vanda, 25, said he did not think his teammates would be found alive.
“They’ve been missing for hours in the water,” said Vanda, who praised authorities for helping to pull the survivors from the water after the boat capsized.
Prek Thmei commune chief Ly Vantheng, who is head of the team, said a team of Cham fishermen had been employed to dive and try and find the victims.
He added the team was unlikely to race after the tragedy.
“I don’t know how it could be enjoyable since two people are missing,” Ventheng said.
“We feel much regret over the incident… we came to here to celebrate the national festival… the company also didn’t want this to happen and have expressed their regret.”
Chhin Ketana, secretary general for the National Committee for Organising National and International Festivals, said the races this evening were organised by City Hall and were not part of the official Water Festival, which begins on Sunday.
Reached earlier today, City Hall spokesman Meas Chanyada declined to comment, saying he was busy.
Today’s crash is not the first tragedy to befall the Water Festival, which has been cancelled several times in recent years for reasons including floods, low water levels and political tensions.
In 2010, more than 300 people died and hundreds more were injured after a stampede erupted during celebrations on Koh Pich.