Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophorn said provincial authorities had provided life jackets to boats carrying students in some areas after the sinking of a ferry in Loeuk Dek district claimed the lives of 11 students who were travelling home from school on October 13.

In light of the tragic incident, he said authorities are now prepared to better take care of the safety of students and residents every time they travel by boat.

“So far, the transportation by boats is not an issue. It goes smoothly as the boat owners pay more attention to safety and the boats are equipped with life jackets, unlike before. And now there is very careful monitoring and we will not let our people follow the traditional way in their communities as we have to exert more control and responsibility,” Sophorn said.

He added that the government is also considering building a bridge for the community where the boat sank in order to make it easier and safer for them to travel.

“We have thought about it, but we are not talking about the dates [of construction] yet because the water has not receded. We will build a bridge soon when the water recedes,” Sophorn said.

However, the governor did not specify whether travelling by boats in other areas of the province is also being scrutinised or if the boats have all been equipped with life jackets.

Civil society said that in addition to equipping boats with life jackets, authorities should take more measures to inspect ferries and boats and to have more experts available to rescue victims in a timely manner.

Yang Kim Eng, president of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said it is a good thing that the authorities are now paying attention to these issues by equipping life jackets on boats to reduce the risks to the students and the fears of the parents.

“Otherwise, maybe parents will not send their children to school. It [life jacket] can reduce some of the risks, but not 100 per cent. Authorities have to check boats carefully and be better prepared so they can rescue victims in time. This is an important thing,” he said.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director at rights group LICADHO, said it was a horrible tragedy for children to drown as they travelled by boat to school.

“For the transportation of students to school, we must be careful. For all boats, there must be a safety check to make sure that it is not too old or dangerous. If anyone does not pay attention to safety, there must be legal action,” he said.

Sam Ath said this would help protect the lives of children as well as students and people who travel by boat.

“Local authorities must take measures, especially when the students leave the school, by checking to ensure that there are no technical problems or overloading,” he added.

On October 20, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport issued a number of measures requiring the capital-provincial education departments and offices to monitor all notices on weather forecasts and inform all schools where students commute by boat.

The ministry also urged relevant parties to cooperate on inspections of the technical states of the common means of transportation, such as buses and boats used by students and educators. And in cases where those means of transportation may pose any risk, their use should be suspended and recommendations made to upgrade them.

It also encouraged parents to regularly advise their children to be careful and to choose safe transportation when commuting to school. They should examine the availability of safety equipment for their children when travelling to school and cooperate with relevant authorities.