In the wake of highly publicized incidents involving tourist boats in Siem Reap, police are cracking down on overcrowding.
Police confirmed Monday that a boat owned by Chann Na Speed Boat was stopped Friday as it was about to leave the dock in Siem Reap for the 7 am trip to Phnom Penh.
The boat, with a capacity of 55 passengers, carried 75 people. Police also said it was not equipped with enough life preservers and that the crew could not produce the proper license.
The boat was allowed to leave at 10:30 am after 20 passengers were removed and additional life preservers were located. Police said they only let the boat go without the license because a number of passengers had airplanes to catch in Phnom Penh.
A Taiwanese tourist drowned April 27 when a Royal boat coming back from Siem Reap sank near Kompong Chhnang, about 100 km north of Phnom Penh. That boat was authorized to carry 50 passengers, but witnesses said it carried 60.
Overcrowding is not the only problem faced by Siem Reap boats. On March 22, seven men hijacked a Chann Na boat as it traveled from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap; 90 passengers were robbed of thousands of dollars in money and valuables.
Tourism officials, aware the incidents generated negative headlines around the world, vowed to increase security and seek tough new regulations on the Siem Reap boats.
Ros Sarath, first deputy police chief in Siem Reap, says police have resumed enforcing existing regulations. “We just began this serious crackdown on overloading after the repeated incidents,’’ he said. “We won’t be negligent from now on.’’
He said police had previously been strict, but had been told by unidentified higher-ups, who were connected to the boating companies, to look the other way on the overcrowding issue.
“But now, we will no longer [do that],’’ he said.
Nuon Bophal, provincial police chief, said his agency thinks the regulations should be even more strict. He said he will suggest that a police officer ride aboard each boat to guarantee its safety.
Nam Tum, first deputy governor of Siem Reap, said he is issuing new safety regulations, transferring responsibility for enforcement to the public works department in collaboration with police.
“We must not allow the boat overcrowding and overloading, and [we must] make them respect the standards” of the public works department, he said.
Those who persist in violating the standards will first be warned; then fined from 3 to 5 million riel ($789 to $1,316); and finally, lose their licenses, he said.