A fast river, an unprepared rowing team and a lack of information caused the death of five Singaporean national team rowers during last year’s Water Festival boat races in Phnom Penh, according to a recently released report.
The seven-member Singaporean panel’s six-month investigation found no one thing to blame for the Nov 23 tragedy, when five men aged 20 to 31 drowned in the Tonle Sap river after their boat capsized, though the panel did criticize Cambodia’s handling of the affair.
Shortly after the incident, the Singapore Sports Council, Singapore Dragon Boat Association and the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports established a panel to look into the accident.
The panel’s Safety Inquiry Report, released May 29, found Cambodian organizers at fault on three levels: The river was said to be flowing at only 3 knots when it was later measured at 8 knots; race equipment did not comply with International Dragon Boat Federation standards; and inadequate information was provided about the race format.
“[T]he organizers could have been more mindful that the river conditions might pose some dangers to participants unfamiliar with the strong currents and the boats used for the race,” the report said.
The panel also found the 22-man Singaporean team at fault for not being adequately trained for the race and having arrived in Phnom Penh only the night before. The report recommends that the Singapore Dragon Boat Federation implement a proper training system and also only take part in races that comply with IDBF standards.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the Water Festival is still months away from being planned, so it is uncertain what changes might be made as a result of the report.
The problem, he said, was that the Singaporean rowers declined to wear lifejackets and also declined to be towed into the docking area, instead choosing to row to shore.
“If you follow the rules, there will not be a problem,” Khieu Kanharith said. “We share the sorrow of the families,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Chhorn Chansy)