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Mekong ferry sinks, 44 are feared dead

Mekong ferry sinks, 44 are feared dead

A t least 44 people are feared dead after an over-loaded Mekong River ferry sank

about seven km northwest of the capital, Reasemey Kampuchea reported. Another 60

survived by swimming the one km to shore at Prek Leap or by being picked up by

six small boats which went to the rescue.

Twenty students from Prek Leap

Agricultural College, elderly women and children are believed among the victims

of the disaster in the early morning of Feb 14.

Gen Veng Chak was quoted

as saying that 13 bodies had been recovered from the scene and another 31 were

reported missing.

He said that many of the other corpses may have

floated further downstream.

The owner and captain of the ferry Tai Bou,

47, of Chbar Ampeou commune on the east bank of the Tonle Bassac river

reportedly fled the scene after getting ashore. Police have confiscated another

of his ships while the hunt for him continues.

Some of the survivors said

he ignored their pleas not to over-load the ferry.

More than 50

motorcycles and farm produce heading for Phnom Penh markets were also crammed on

board with the passengers.

The ferry changed course suddenly and was

traveling at too high a speed, causing it to take on water and sink, Reasmey

Kampuchea reported.

One of the survivors, Wan Naa, spoke briefly to the

Post the day after the disaster, before boarding a ferry similar to the one

which went down. He said: "I cannot swim well but some of the people in the

water helped me. I also found a piece of wood to help me get to the

shore."

All that could be seen of the ferry is the extreme prow of the

boat poking just above the water, with the boat lying vertically and the stern

resting on the bottom

When the Post visited the scene on-lookers suddenly

became excited after some believed they had spotted a body. A launch was sent

out but was called back to shore by a military policemen, who loosed off some

warning shots from his M-16. He was apparently worried that the body would be

looted though the boatmen had been unable to find it.

A detachment of

soldiers and police then launched another search in a larger boat. The ferry was

later raised and 47 motorcycles recovered.

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