A Cambodian man was left dead after a group of fishermen from Kampot province clashed with Vietnamese fishermen while at sea on Sunday evening, according to officials.
At about 8 p.m. Sunday, a vigilante squad of some 30 fishing boats from Troeuy Koh commune in Kampot City surrounded a pair of Vietnamese boats trawling off the coast, according to provincial governor Khoy Khun Hour.
Shortly after, boats collided following the arrival of a third Vietnamese vessel to assist the two that had been surrounded, he said, resulting in the death of Ey Youb, 42.
“It was an accident and we regret that someone has died,” Mr. Khun Hour said. “If our Khmer fishermen had seen Vietnamese come into Cambodia and reported it to authorities, then this might not have happened.”
Mr. Khun Hour said the two nations have an agreement to share the waters between Kampot and the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc—which lies about 12 km offshore—and that the volatile situation had erupted after each side accused the other of fishing in their waters.
“[The Cambodians] know Vietnam has big boats but they still go to face them,” he said.
Fishing communities in coastal Kampot and the islands offshore have long battled with Vietnamese who they accuse of encroaching on and overfishing their waters. The location of Phu Quoc—called Koh Tral in Khmer—among a number of Cambodian islands muddies the issue.
In May 2014, fed up with the government’s lack of attention to to the problem, fishermen from Troeuy Koh launched a similar operation to the one that went wrong on Sunday night, detaining 13 Vietnamese and bringing them ashore to face the law.
On that occasion, Mr. Khun Hour handed the 13 over to Vietnamese authorities and recommended that they be educated because when Vietnamese authorities arrest Cambodians fishing in their waters, he said at the time, “they send our people back too.”
In 2008, provincial fisheries official Phat Saroeun was shot dead while tracking illegal Vietnamese boats off the coast of Kampot.
According to deputy provincial police chief Mao Chanmathurith, Sunday’s death was initially thought to be murder until navy and fisheries officers examined the body.
“Fisheries and navy [officials] checked the victim’s body and saw from his bruises that he was injured when the boats [collided] then died when he hit the water,” he said.
Brigadier General Touch Poleak, deputy chief of the navy’s water border battalion in Kampot and Kep, declined to comment on the incident.