Tourist riverboats have been temporarily banned in Kampot City following the deaths of four people who drowned when their overcrowded boat hit the riverbed and sank, provincial authorities announced on Wednesday.
The Cambodian victims, three of whom were from the same family, became trapped in the boat’s lower deck on Monday. The vessel’s owner was swiftly detained while the skipper swam to shore and fled on foot.
Sim Vuthea, deputy governor of Kampot province, said on Wednesday that all boat tours—popular with tourists who take sunset trips up the Toek Chhou River to see fireflies—would be temporarily banned because of the deadly incident.
“We have always educated the skippers, and sometimes we would stop their boats because they were overloaded, but you know what it’s like during the festival: Both skippers and passengers say, ‘Oh, it’s OK,’” he said.
“After the incident happened, on Wednesday evening we decided to temporarily shut down all tourist boats,” he said, adding that the boats should be back up and running in “a few days.”
The boats would start running again once a new committee comprised of police and provincial officials was formed to monitor the safety of the vessels and determine the number of passengers allowed to board, Mr. Vuthea said.
“Previously, it was controlled by the Tourism Department, but now a provincial committee will control it directly,” he said.
Officials on Wednesday were still searching for the boat’s skipper, 50-year-old Ros Smann, deputy provincial police chief Theav Samith said.
“The boat owner must be responsible for the incident. The skipper swam away as the boat was sinking and remains at large,” he said. “We are looking for him.”
The boat’s owner, Sok Lim, 44, was questioned at the provincial court on Wednesday, but was not charged, said court spokesman Khann Sophal.
About 10 boats helped to rescue the boat’s 70 to 80 passengers.