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Seventeen go down with ferry

Seventeen go down with ferry

091012_03
Relatives grieve for victims of Saturday’s ferry disaster, which claimed at least 17 lives – many of them children under the age of 14.

At least 10 people still missing and feared dead, official says.

CHILDREN as young as four were among 17 people who died when an overloaded ferry capsized in Kratie province, officials said Sunday, sparking questions over the safety of public transportation in the Kingdom.

It is believed at least 30 people, as well as several motorbikes, were crammed onto the 8-metre-long boat when the vessel sank along the Mekong river on Saturday night. The boat was just metres from its mooring when it tipped over, plunging passengers immediately into the fast-flowing water, one witness said.

On Sunday, police undertook the grisly task of recovering the bodies. “Only 17 bodies have been found,” said Chuong Seang Hak, Kratie province’s police chief. “We are hunting for the other people.”

Most of the dead were children between the ages of 4 and 14, said Seun Rath, director of Kratie province’s Department of Information.

Officials could not confirm how many people were still missing Sunday night, but Seun Rath estimated that at least 10 passengers remained unaccounted for. “Some families claimed they had lost two or three members each in the incident,” he said.

The villagers were crossing from Chhnei on the river’s north side to Kampong Thma on the south when the boat tipped over, said Saum Sarith, governor of Chhlaung district. The passengers had been on their way to a ceremony at a pagoda in Chhnei.

“Four people managed to swim to the river bank and survived the incident,” he said. “For the other missing people, we do not know yet whether they have died already or are still alive.”

An employee who was working on the boat when it sank said passengers insisted on crowding onto the tiny vessel even though it was already packed.

“It was the mistake of the boat owner, but passengers were to blame, too,” said Eang Sam Ol.

“We tried to prohibit them from getting on the boat because it was already full, and it was raining as well, which was dangerous, but they did not listen and kept rushing onto the boat.”

The boat floated only 4 or 5 metres away from the river bank before it sank, Eang Sam Ol said.

There were conflicting reports yesterday of what had become of the boat’s owner, Uch Ry. Eang Sam Ol said he saw his employer swim to shore and hide in a house in Chhnei village, but the owner’s daughter, who also survived the accident when she leaped into the water, believes he drowned. “On the riverbank, I tried to call to my father, but I couldn’t see him,” she said. “I do not know if he has died or is still alive.”

Chran Chanthou said she felt bad for the victims, and that her family would try to compensate their relatives, but also blamed the passengers. “It’s not only my family’s mistake, but the passengers’,” she said. “They tried to jump into my boat. That caused the boat to sink into the river.”

Saum Sarith, the district governor, said roughly 20 people were on the boat when it sank. But Chran Chanthou, who was responsible for collecting money from the passengers, said there were at least 30.

It was a disaster waiting to happen, according to Thim Narin, the provincial coordinator in Kratie for human rights NGO Adhoc. Many boat owners who operate ferry services in Cambodia tend to overload their vessels, eager for the extra fares, she said.

“It is their responsibility,” Thim Narin said. “Most travellers are poor and forget to think about their safety.” Thim Narin said it was essential that authorities prosecute the boat’s owner if he is still alive.

“Overloading the boat is a wrong action,” she said. “The boat owner must be responsible for this in front of the law and the victims’ families.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHRANN CHAMROEUN.

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