TOURISM Minister Veng Sereyvuth has promised strong government action in the wake
of the April 26 Siem Reap ferry accident that claimed the life of Taiwanese tourist
Chen, a 52-year-old father of four, drowned after the Royal Express ferry in which
he was traveling capsized in the Tonle Sap eight kilometers north of Kampong Chhnang
reportedly after the boat collided with a submerged fishing-lot marker.
Reacting to reports that the 50-seat boat was seriously overloaded at the time of
the accident, Sereyvuth said that the government would investigate whether negligence
on the part of the Royal Express company played a role in the incident.
"Somebody has to be held responsible," Sereyvuth said of the accident.
"If anything is found to have been done illegally, the [boat company] will have
to be punished."
Sereyvuth said the ferry accident had attracted the urgent concern of Prime Minister
Hun Sen, who was expected to address the matter at a special meeting on May 2 in
"You're going to hear strong words and [the announcement] of strong measures
from the Prime Minister," Sereyvuth promised.
Sereyvuth said an investigation was already under way by his ministry to determine
whether technical failure, the lack of safety equipment or overloading were factors
in Chen's death.
Chang An-jyah, one of seven fellow Taiwanese traveling with Chen when the accident
occurred, expressed anger at what he described as the "totally unsafe"
conditions of the Royal Express boat.
Sitting near the crematorium at Phnom Penh's Wat Ounalom where Chen's body lies in
state pending the arrival of his family from Taiwan, Chang placed the blame for Chen's
death squarely on the Royal Express company.
"In Taiwan or America or any other country, passenger boats have to meet safety
standards and have lifejackets and emergency exits, but that boat had nothing like
that," he said bitterly. "If that boat had had proper safety features,
[Chen] might not have died."
While downplaying any long-term impact the ferry accident might have on Cambodia's
tourism development, Jacques Guichandut of the Siem Reap travel agency Asian Trails
told the Post that government attention to the safety risks of boat travel between
Siem Reap and Phnom Penh was long overdue.
"Boat companies need to start limiting the number of passengers they allow on
their boats," Guichandut said.
"The authorities really have to think carefully about how to improve the safety
of transportation between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh."
Sereyvuth dismissed suggestions that the government had been lax in addressing the
issue of the safety of Siem Reap ferries, saying that the March 22 armed robbery
of a Siem Reap ferry had provoked serious government attention to the matter.