Cambodia’s tourism minister vowed Thursday to tighten up safety regulations for passenger boats a day after one of the ferries sunk on the Tonle Sap River, drowning one Taiwanese tourist.
“Certainly there are some [regulations] there, but we have to have more concrete details about these,” Minister Veng Sereyvuth said, explaining that he would call a meeting with other top government officials on the matter.
Fifty-two-year-old Chen Chin Shin drowned after apparently leaping into the river as the overloaded speed boat, one of the five vessels operated by Royal Express Boats, began to fill with water and sink after hitting a log while returning to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap.
The remaining 64 passengers and crew were able to swim about 5 meters to shore or were plucked uninjured from the river by nearby fishing boats, according to Lay Sokha, deputy chief of cabinet for Kompong Chhnang province.
It was the second incident in a month involving ferry service to and from Siem Reap. Last month, seven gunmen hijacked a boat and held 90 passengers hostage for nearly two hours while robbing them.
“This is too much already. These people come to tour the country—they do not deserve all of this,” Veng Sereyvuth said.
Though committees have been set up by the Ministry of Public Works to monitor overcrowding and enforce safety regulations on the ferries, it is unclear how often inspections are made or how effective they are, inspector Meas Samioth said Thursday.
Meas Samioth said that inspectors often have to cover large territories, making them less effective.
This, coupled with a tendency to turn a blind eye to the common practice of overloading a boat, has hampered efforts to control the ferries, he said.
“There are rules on the water- ways…but they are not enforced very well,” Meas Samioth said.
While this particular boat is designed to carry only 50 passengers, it was holding 59, including 14 foreigners, authorities said.
One of the owners of Royal Express Boats, Thai Bung Kheang, said that boats are inspected before each of their runs by both government officials and police, and that they are equipped with safety devices including life preservers.
But a foreign resident of Phnom Penh said that on a recent trip she had not been shown where the preservers were kept, nor been told how to use them.
Wednesday’s accident occurred around 10 am, when the boat’s pilot reported hearing a loud noise, like a bomb exploding, Thai Bung Kheang said.
The log apparently damaged the bottom of the boat, which Lay Sokha said was made of wood and beginning to decay.
As he realized the boat was sinking, the pilot tried to ground the boat on the nearby shoreline but it sunk about five meters from the river bank, Thai Bung Kheang said.
Though passengers said earlier the boat rapidly filled up, Lay Sokha said it sank slowly. He said that Chen Chin Shin’s death could have been avoided if he had stayed with the vessel.