Authorities on Sunday recovered the bodies of five Singaporean men killed after their boat capsized Friday evening during the annual Water Festival boat races in Phnom Penh.
“It is the first time foreigners had a boat accident in our Water Festival event—we are very sorry,” said Nhim Vanda, first vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, who was helping coordinate the search for the drowned men.
A statement from Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday identified the dead men as Chee Wei Cheng, Jeremy Goh Tze Xiong, Stephen Loh Soon Ann, Reuben Kee En Rui, and Poh Boon San.
The 22-man Singaporean team was paddling their dragon boat—a traditional, long, thin racing boat—back to a staging ground near the Phnom Penh port, when they capsized around 5:30 pm, said Nhim Vanda.
An eyewitness told Channel News Asia that the rowers seemed fatigued and unable to swim through the powerful river current.
Police boats managed to save 17 men Friday, three of them unconscious from water inhalation, but five vanished, said Seang Leng, an immigration police officer with the Ministry of Interior.
None were wearing lifejackets, Nhim Vanda said.
On Saturday, a team of six divers and a medic trained in underwater rescue from Singapore’s Naval Diving Unit joined more than 100 Cambodian military, police, and disaster management officials, as well as local fishermen to help with search and rescue efforts.
Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote to Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday to convey his “shock and sadness” at the accident, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Sunday morning around 8:20, two bodies were pulled from the Tonle Sap river, not far from the FCC, a waterfront bar and restaurant popular with tourists. Around 11:30 am, the remaining three men were found in the river, near the Cambodiana Hotel, officials said.
The body of an unidentified Cambodian racer who drowned Friday was also pulled from the water Sunday around 5 am, in front of the Naga casino, said Nhim Vanda.
All the bodies were taken to Calmette Hospital, he said. Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said the Singaporean Embassy in Phnom Penh would arrange for the repatriation of the remains.
Family members of the five men arrived in Cambodia Saturday evening. They first visited the site of the accident, and were then escorted by Singaporean Ambassador Tan Yee Woan to meet with Nhim Vanda, Tourism Minister Thong Khon and other high-ranking officials to discuss efforts made to find the rowers still missing at the time.
The accident cast a pall over Cambodia’s first all-Asean Water Festival boat race. This year, every Asean country except for Burma was represented in the annual race, which commemorates the naval victory of King Jayavarman VII over invading Cham forces in the 12th Century.
Four hundred and thirty-four boats participated in the three-day races, which concluded Sunday, said Chea Kean, deputy secretary-general at the National Committee for Organizing National and International Festivals.