11 students drown after river ferry capsizes in Cambodia

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Mother of Son Sophat, a teen victim of a boat accident, cries by her daughter’s coffin during a funeral procession in Koh Chamroeun village, east of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022. Multiple students in southern Cambodia who were crossing a river have died after the boat they were on capsized Thursday night, officials said. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

KOH CHAMROEUN, Cambodia (AP) — Eleven students in southern Cambodia who were crossing a river died after the boat they were on capsized, officials said.

Four people — two students and two of the boat’s crew — were rescued following the accident Thursday night on the Mekong River southeast of Phnom Penh, police said.

The body of a 14-year-old boy, who had been missing, was found Saturday morning, Maj. Gen. Chhoeun Sochet, chief of the Kandal provincial police, said on his Facebook page.

The students, who were between 12 and 14 years old, were returning from an English class. They lived on an island in the river and used the ferry for transport almost every day in the rainy season, as did others from their village. During the dry season, the river sometimes has little or no water and can be traversed by foot.

The boat was overloaded and lacked life jackets, the police chief said.

The accident occurred near the Neak Loeung bridge over the Mekong, which at that point separates Kandal province on the western shore from Prey Veng on the east. The bridge is part of Route 1, a major road connecting the capital, Phnom Penh, to Ho Chi Minh City in neighboring Vietnam.

The police chief in Kandal’s Leuk Daek district, Am Thou, said the accident occurred as the boat was approaching the shore. It took on water in the bow, and the students were instructed to move to seats in the middle or stern of the boat.

However, as they walked back, the boat became unbalanced and turned over.

One of the survivors, 12-year-old Ry Chanbora, was shown in a video broadcast online by Swift News telling relatives that she normally doesn’t know how to swim well despite living near the river. She said that when the boat was going down she jumped out, trying to swim with her face up, and drifted to the river’s bank.

Provincial officials paid a visit to the girl, and King Norodom Sihamoni on his royal Facebook page offered condolences and prayers for the families of the victims. Prime Minister Hun Sen also gave condolences on the Telegram messaging platform.

“May I urge all the people, especially the people who live along the river, to pay the highest care during this flooding period,” he said, referring to the recent heavy rains that possibly contributed to the accident.

Police chief Am Thou said the boat’s two operators had been hospitalized after the accident and would face legal action. He did not say what charges they would face.

The World Health Organization said last year that according to assessments in 2019, more than 144,000 drowning deaths occurred in the Asia Pacific region, 61% of the global total.

“Of the 70,000 drowning deaths in the WHO South-East Asia Region in 2019, more than 33% were among children aged under 15 years,” said the U.N. agency. “On average, men were three to four times more likely to drown than women.”

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Associated Press writer Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report.

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