Two men were missing on Friday evening after a cruise ship carrying Vietnamese tourists smashed into a row boat full of would-be Water Festival competitors on the Tonle Sap river running through central Phnom Penh earlier in the day, officials said.
Prek Thmei commune chief Liv Vanntheng said the collision happened near the Sokha Hotel at about 7:10 a.m. when the Cruiseco Adventurer ship blindsided the Reasmey Sreysros Danh Tep Senchey, which was carrying nine paddlers from Chbar Ampov district.
“The river water had a strong flow and the boat was transporting the rowers in the opposite direction of the upstream current,” he said, explaining that the boat was being propelled by a small engine that was struggling against the strong current.
“The racing boat turned to the side of the river…then swerved into the way of the ship, which crashed into the boat,” Mr. Vanntheng said.
The boat then began to sink as police attempted to help the rowers to shore, he said.
Despite seven of the group managing to reach the shore safely, two men—Chhoeun Chon, 36, and Sok Chanchesda, 18—went missing, he said.
“We still have not found both victims and I cannot confirm whether both of them are dead or still alive,” he said. “They might have swam somewhere else to take a rest.”
Sun Channa, 18, one of the crew members that survived, said none of the team noticed the ship until seconds before it smashed into their boat.
“When I saw the ship, we could not turn the boat or reduce the speed to avoid the crash at all because the ship was so close already,” he said.
Mr. Channa said he did not see his two missing teammates after the crash as he was attempting to save his own life.
He then accused the ship’s captain of deliberately smashing into his boat.
“My boat was in front of the ship. The ship’s captain had the intention to crash into my boat—that’s why it came straight toward my boat,” he said.
“It would not have crashed if the ship’s captain had turned the rudder,” he added.
Representatives from Cruiseco Line, the company that owns the ship, could not be contacted on Friday.
If the two missing rowers are found to have lost their lives, it would be the first deadly incident to hit the Water Festival since the 2010 stampede that claimed 353 lives, an event the government said caused the single largest loss of life in Cambodia since the Khmer Rouge era.
Starting on Sunday, this week’s festival, traditionally an annual event, will be only the second since the 2010 tragedy.