Villagers in Kratie province will protest if a World War II-era French gunboat sunk in the Mekong River is cut up for scrap, as they fear it will be, a local official said Monday.
Local authorities had hoped to raise the 700-ton, 59-meter Francis Garnier to the surface to make it a tourist attraction. But Leang Rithy, the company previously conducting the salvage operation, halted operations Jan 28, citing rising costs.
Villagers have heard that the firm now wants to cut up two thirds of the ship for scrap and hand over the remaining third to provincial officials in Kratie town, said Nuth Narin, Krakor commune chief.
“If the Leang Rithy company cuts the World War II ship for scrap, we will demonstrate against them, because it is the heritage of people in Kratie and all Cambodia,” Nuth Narin said.
“Our people do not agree with the company’s idea,” he said.
Thuon Kry, deputy provincial governor, said the boat will not be scrapped.
The ship is currently one-and-a-half meters below the river’s surface, and it will stay there until an investor is found to salvage it, he said.
“Leang Rithy will remove [their equipment and staff] from the boat’s site next week, because we have no budget to pay them to salvage it,” Thuon Kry said. “We are looking for a tour agency in Cambodia to invest.”
Provincial police Chief So Nak said that he would support villagers demonstrating against the company if any attempt is made to scrap the ship.
Pierre-Yves Clais, a tour operator based in Ratanakkiri province and the author of several French-language guidebooks to Cambodia, said the wreck could bring long-term benefits.
“It’s not that people would come to Kratie especially to see that, but it would be a nice thing to see while you’re there,” he said. “There’s already a lot of tourists coming on their way to Laos or Ratanakkiri.”