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
"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
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,
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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