KOH CHAMROEUN, Cambodia –
Officials say 11 students in southern Cambodia who were crossing the river died after their boat capsized.
Police said four people – two students and two members of the boat – were rescued after the crash on Thursday night on the Mekong River, southeast of Phnom Penh.
The body of a missing 14-year-old boy was found on Saturday morning, Major General Chhoeun Sochet, police chief of Kandal province, said on his Facebook page.
Students aged 12 to 14 returning from an English class. They live on an island in the river and use ferries for transportation almost daily during the rainy season, as do others in their village. During the dry season, the river sometimes has little or no water and is walkable across the river.
The sheriff said the boat was overloaded and lacked life jackets.
The accident happened near the Neak Loeung Bridge that spans the Mekong River, at that time separating Kandal province on the west coast from Prey Veng on the east. The bridge is part of National Highway 1, a major road connecting the capital Phnom Penh with neighboring Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City.
Kandal’s Leuk Daek district police chief, Am Thou, said the accident happened as the boat was approaching shore. It has water in the bow, and students are instructed to move to a seat in the center or stern of the boat.
However, when they returned, the boat lost its balance and capsized.
One of the survivors, 12-year-old Ry Chanbora, was streamed by Swift News in a video streamed by Swift News telling relatives the little girl normally doesn’t know how to swim well despite living near the river. She said that as the boat was going down, she jumped out, tried to swim back up, and drifted ashore.
Provincial officials visited the girl, and King Norodom Sihamoni on his royal Facebook page offered condolences and prayers to the families of the victims. Prime Minister Hun Sen also offered condolences on the Telegram messaging platform.
“Hope everyone, especially riverside residents, take the utmost care during this flood,” he said, referring to recent heavy rains that may have contributed to the accident.
Police chief Am Thou said the two drivers of the boat were hospitalized following the accident and will face legal action. He did not say what charges they would face.
The World Health Organization said last year that, according to an assessment in 2019, more than 144,000 drowning deaths occurred in the Asia Pacific region, accounting for 61% of all global deaths.
Of the 70,000 drowning deaths in the WHO Southeast Asia Region in 2019, more than 33% were among children under 15 years of age, said the United Nations agency. “On average, men are three to four times more likely to drown than women.”
Associated Press writer Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report.