Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Volunteers, fishermen clash off Kep’s coast



Volunteers, fishermen clash off Kep’s coast

Volunteers, fishermen clash off Kep’s coast

A group of foreign conservation volunteers sailing off the coast of Kep province late on Friday night were set upon by a flotilla of illegal fishermen who attempted to pelt them with rocks and other projectiles, only disbanding after Cambodian maritime police fired warning shots into the sea.

According to Paul Ferber, founder of Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC), an oceanic research group that also monitors illegal fishing in Kep Bay, the incident occurred while a boat of seven foreign, mostly young volunteers were out on the bay for a stargazing cruise after 10pm.

Ferber said that when the stargazers unexpectedly encountered an illegal trawler about 1 kilometre off of Koh Seh, MCC’s research island near the Vietnamese border, the fishermen cut their trawling nets – which were electrified, added Ferber, “a class-one jailable offence” – and began chasing the volunteers.

As the volunteers fled towards Koh Seh, seven more trawling vessels appeared and joined in the pursuit. Nearing Koh Seh, three pursuing fishing boats began hurling rocks, tools and even squid at the frightened foreigners, according to volunteers present.

“It was like a pack of hyenas attacking water buffalo. Pretty scary,” said Australian volunteer Carney Miller, 21, in an interview yesterday.

When the volunteers reached Koh Seh, they were met by Ferber in another MCC boat, which had picked up two armed Cambodian marine police officers from their cantonment on the other side of Koh Seh. While attempting to reach the volunteers, Ferber’s boat was rammed head-on by a trawler.

“If our captain had not manoeuvred quickly, it would’ve hit us directly in the side, sinking us,” said Ferber.

When the fishermen came in for a second ramming, one of the officers on board fired his AK-47 into the bay as a warning, which successfully dispersed the aggressive trawlers who fled back into the bay, said Ferber.

As that was happening, three trawlers destroyed MCC’s third and smallest vessel, which was unmanned and moored by their pier, by repeatedly ramming it. One volunteer said he also witnessed fishermen lobbing lit petrol bombs at the boat, which missed their mark and fizzled in the sea.

Ferber, whose group has monitored illegal fishing in Kep Bay for four years, said that the incident marked a dramatic escalation in the effort against illegal fishing there.

The Briton speculated that the trawler’s heightened aggression might be due to an intensified government crackdown on the trawlers. In the first nine months of 2015, illegal fishing busts were up 150 per cent compared to the same period the previous year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Tep Yuthy, deputy governor of Kep, said that teams from the marine police and fisheries administration were conducting an investigation into the incident, though he had not received any findings of the investigation, he said.

Kuch Virak, director of the recently inaugurated Kep fisheries office, confirmed the investigation.

“We have some leads but we cannot provide any information because it is an ongoing investigation,” he said.

Additional reporting by Niem Chheng and Mech Dara

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Phnom Penh curfew starts today

    A two-week curfew from 8pm to 5am starts today in Phnom Penh, a day after a sub-decree detailing administrative measures to contain Covid-19 was issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Travelling in Phnom Penh is temporally banned between 8pm and 5am,” said Phnom Penh governor

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting