At least nine schoolchildren have died in southern Cambodia after the boat they were traveling in capsized, authorities said.
Four people, two students and two from the boat’s crew, were rescued after Thursday night’s accident on the Mekong River, southeast of Phnom Penh, and two students were still missing Friday, police said .
Major General Chhoeun Sochet, Kandal provincial police chief, said on his Facebook page that the ferry was overloaded and had no life jackets.
The students, who were between 12 and 14 years old, lived on an island in the river and used the ferry for transportation almost every day in the rainy season, just like others in their village.
During the dry season, the river has little or no water and can be traversed on foot.
The students were on their way to an English class on Thursday when the boat capsized.
The accident occurred near the Neak Loeung Bridge over the Mekong, which at that point separates Kandal province on the western coast from Prey Veng in the east.
The bridge is part of Route 1, a major road connecting the capital, Phnom Penh, with Ho Chi Minh City in neighboring Vietnam.
Police chief of Kandal’s Leuk Daek district, Am Thou, said the accident occurred as the boat approached the coast. It took on water in the bow and the students were instructed to move to seats in the middle or aft of the ship.
However, as they walked back, the ship became unbalanced and overturned.
One of the survivors, 12-year-old Ry Chanbora, was shown in a video broadcast online by Swift News telling family members that she normally can’t swim well despite living near the river.
He said that as the boat was going down he jumped out, trying to swim face up, and drifted to the river bank.
Provincial officials visited the girl and King Norodom Sihamoni on his royal Facebook page offered condolences and prayers for the families of the victims.
Police chief Am Thou said the boat’s owners, who were its crew, had been taken to hospital after the accident but would face legal action. He did not say what charges they would face.
The World Health Organization said last year that based on 2019 assessments, 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% occurred among children under the age of 15,” the UN agency said.
“On average, men were three to four times more likely to drown than women.”