Following last week’s drowning of a 13-year-old girl, who was killed when a small ferry overturned in Kampong Thom province, a number of social media users have shared videos of students crowded aboard similarly over-laden vessels to the one at the heart of the tragedy.

The majority of posters have used the videos to call for improved safety standards for such vessels.

One minute-long video, one of many shared in recent days, showed about 50 students from a primary school in Pursat province crossing a small river on a crowded boat, while still more students waited for their turn to cross. Very few of the students were wearing life jackets.

“This is footage of students from Ta Des primary school in Phnom Kravanh district‘s Somrong commune travelling to school on a small boat,” says the man filming the video.

 “A teacher is operating the boat, which although crowded will make several journeys each day. These students are forced to take a serious risk. I would like to ask the leaders of the country to help these students so they do not need to place themselves in danger anymore,” he adds.

The video has been widely shared, with many commenting on the need to avoid a repeat of the terrible incident in Kampong Thom.

However, it has been determined that the footage was first posted on March 30, more than two months before the recent drowning.

Pursat provincial governor Khoy Rida said on June 13 that the video that is being shared is an old one, and misrepresents the actual situation in Somrong commune. In fact, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport has constructed a susupension bridge called the “Ta Des Bridge”, which is used by many people each day.

It will be joined by a steel unit, which will serve about 300 families.

“The suspension bridge has already been built and they will build the steel bridge later. People are already using the first bridge,” he said.

He explained that additional bridges will be constructed in any other places where people – especially students – find it difficult to cross a river, although he noted that high-volume areas would receive priority.

Rida inspected the Ta Des Bridge on May 21. At the time, he recommended that additional nets be added to improve the safety of citizens crossing the bridge.

Kampong Chhnang provincial governor Sun Sovannarith could not be reached for comment on June 13 to discuss a similar video, which posters claimed was shot in the province.

Students and their bicycles are borne across a river by a ferry. the vessel is not overloaded and the students are all wearing life jackets. Transport ministry

The transport ministry issued a June 12 directive which called for increased attention to be paid to the safety of all boats and ferries, especially during the rainy season. It noted that at the wettest time of year, conditions can include rainstorms, strong winds and strong currents.

The ministry advised the owners of all commercial vessels to immediately cease the use of sub-standard boats, noting that regular technical inspections must be carried out. 

All boat operators should ensure that the number of passengers aboard does not exceed the maximum capacity of the vessel and that any passengers and cargo are distributed to ensure stability.

In addition, each boat ought to carry sufficient safety equipment, such as life jackets and bouys, and a safety briefing should be provided to passengers.

According to one online seller, a life jacket costs between $6.50 and $7.50, depending on the size, with demand highest between July and October.

The directive also instructed boat operators to pay close attention to weather forecasts and heavy weather warnings. 

Should conditions be unfavourable, including heavy rain, flooding or strong winds, they should find a place to dock or come ashore and wait for the weather to improve before continuing their journeys.

The ministry also requested the capital and provincial Departments of Public Works and Transport conduct inspections and provide safety instructions to the owners and operators of all boats, ferries, ports and docks that are operating within their jurisdictions.