Four people, including three members of one family, drowned after a crowded tourist boat sank on the Toek Chhou River in central Kampot City, trapping the victims on its lower deck, officials said on Tuesday.
The owner of the vessel was immediately arrested and was being questioned by police on Tuesday, while officials were searching for the skipper, who allegedly fled after the two-story boat struck the riverbed and sank at about 9 p.m. on Monday.
The boat, which was carrying between 70 and 80 Cambodian tourists on a cruise to view fireflies, may have been overloaded, provincial police chief Mao Chanmathurith said on Tuesday.
“The boat may have been overloaded with tourists and then smashed into sand and rocks on the bottom of the river which caused the boat to crack,” Major General Chanmathurith said.
“When the boat began to sink into the water, people started to freak out…and some of them jumped into the river,” he said. “Immediately, our police boats, navy boats and other tourist boats went to rescue our brothers and sisters.”
The first confirmed victim, Phann Yiv, 72, was initially pulled from the boat, but died en route to the provincial referral hospital, while the body of Sok Sokhom, 61, was discovered in the bottom of the boat at about 8 a.m. on Tuesday, he said.
Lim Ang, the 47-year-old daughter of Phann Yiv, was discovered dead around midday, while the body of Lim Ang’s 9-year-old son, San Sokheng, was recovered about two hours later, said provincial police official Long Kin, who has been part of the investigation.
About 10 boats helped to rescue the local tourists, who were from Kampot province and Phnom Penh, he said.
“I can confirm that this afternoon all the victims are found,” Mr. Kin said.
The boat’s owner, Sok Lim, 44, was detained by police and questioned on Tuesday, while police were searching for the skipper, Ros Smann, 50, who fled as the boat sank, Maj. Gen. Chanmathurith said. He said authorities were still examining the boat.
Nguon Saroeun, Kompong Bay commune chief, laid blame for the deaths at the feet of Mr. Smann for piling too many people onto the vessel.
He said the four victims were sitting on the lower deck and could not escape in time.
“The boat sank because the driver overloaded it with passengers,” he said. “This boat can only hold 50 people but he put more than 80 people on it.”
“According to witnesses, when the boat started to sink, the driver swam to the riverbank to avoid responsibility. Now police are searching for him,” he said.
Monday’s deadly incident comes just three days after two would-be racers in the Water Festival regatta drowned after their boat sank when a ship carrying Vietnamese tourists smashed into their rowing boat in Phnom Penh.
sokhean@cambodiadaily.com
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