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Koh Kong ferry passengers locked in when fire erupts

Koh Kong ferry passengers locked in when fire erupts

PASSENGERS traveling between Koh Kong and Sihanoukville on the ferry Khemara No.

5 were given a severe fright when an engine fire filled the cabin with smoke and

the crew locked exit doors to keep people from fleeing to the deck.

A Canadian in the crowded ferry on the morning of July 1 said the boat was approaching

Sihanoukville when he was woken by the screams of passengers.

"I woke up and the cabin was full of dark, oily smoke. It was very scary."

He said the smoke was thickest towards the back of the cabin near the engines. As

people rushed towards the only two exits, located at the front of the boat, the crew

latched the doors shut and physically blocked passengers' attempts to open them.

"Some foreigners were yelling 'They've locked the doors! They've locked the

doors!' I could hear people running on the roof towards the engines," the Canadian

said.

"The Japanese guy beside me was pulling on his bag like crazy - it was stuck

but he just wanted to leave."

He said the crew in the cabin pushed people away from the doors and ordered them

to return to their seats.

All lifejackets on the boat were piled together near the doors and he believed it

would have been impossible to get one had the fire been more serious.

Khemara No. 5's manager in Sihanoukville, Chhong Lam, told the Post that the fire

started when a line ruptured, spraying oil on a hot exhaust pipe.

He said the incident happened at about 11:00am off Koh Rong - close to Sihanoukville

Port.

Lam said the crew locked the passengers below to avoid causing a panic. The crew

thought the fire was not serious and it was safer if the passengers stayed below,

he said.

Lam claimed the smoke in the cabin was caused by the fire extinguishers.

"We didn't want to have a panic. If we allowed the passengers to go outside,

the boat might have capsized, or passengers might have fallen into the sea."

Because the area around the seats is too cramped to store lifejackets they must be

stored up front, but if there was an accident the crew would pass out lifejackets

to all passengers, he said.

"For some passengers it was only their first time in the boat, so of course

they were scared," Lam said. "But we spend our lives at sea so we are not

scared by small incidents like this. We are responsible for all the passengers. We

have to protect their lives."

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