Three Chinese dead after Cambodia boat sinking

By AFP   September 24, 2022 | 04:42 pm PT
Three Chinese dead after Cambodia boat sinking
Volunteer rescuers search in the sea for survivors close to the location where a boat carrying Chinese nationals sank off the coastal town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia September 23, 2022. Photo by Reuters/Cindy Liu
The death toll from a capsized boat off Cambodia's coast rose to three Chinese nationals on Saturday, with a further nine rescued in Vietnamese waters and eight still missing, Cambodian authorities said.

The vessel with 41 Chinese people on board got into difficulties near the Cambodian casino hub of Sihanoukville on Thursday.

It was carrying migrants from China who had been promised work.

Kheang Phearom, a spokesman for Cambodia's Preah Sihanouk provincial administration, told AFP that rescue teams recovered two more bodies on Saturday, bringing the death toll to three.

Eight people remain missing, he said.

Cambodian authorities had rescued 21 people on Friday.

Vietnamese border guards in Kien Giang Province said a fishing vessel had rescued nine Chinese nationals in Vietnamese waters near Phu Quoc island on Friday.

Chinese survivors recovering from the ordeal at a hospital in Sihanoukville Saturday said they had no idea they were headed for Cambodia, adding that their mobile phones had been confiscated.

Zhu Pingfan, 41, from Hunan province, said he had been lured into undertaking the voyage with the promise of a wage of up to $2,800 for a 20-day fishing trip.

He said he was not sure he would survive after the boat ran into trouble.

"I felt hopeless when I was in the sea," he told AFP.

The stranded passengers spotted other boats in the water but they were too far away and did not hear their cries for help until a third vessel passed Friday.

'Never again'

Another survivor from Hunan said she had been encouraged by her employer to move to a bigger Chinese city and had no idea she was headed for Southeast Asia.

"I think I will never get on a boat again in the future," Huang Qian, 20, told AFP.

She said their vessel left China's Guangdong province on September 10 but food ran out on day four and after a week there was no water.

On day 10 they were transferred to a different boat which had two packets of instant noodles and limited water, she added.

She said the wooden boat capsized because water had leaked into the engine.

"We floated in the sea for two days," she said. "We sat on an ice bucket, floating. Later we saw a fishing boat, so we called for help and they threw rope to us."

The formerly sleepy fishing village of Sihanoukville in Cambodia has been transformed into a casino hub in recent years following a Chinese investment boom.

There have been multiple recent reports of Chinese nationals being duped into working in casinos or online scam operations in Sihanoukville and prevented from leaving.

Cambodian authorities have been trying to crack down on human-trafficking networks following widespread reports of people from other Southeast Asian countries being tricked into migrating for job opportunities billed as lucrative.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime regional representative Jeremy Douglas said the stretch of coastline had long been a notorious trafficking route for timber and drugs.

"I don't think the (criminal) networks are going to pause," he told AFP.

"But I think the authorities are going to take this more seriously because there is a lot of focus and attention."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Beijing was in close contact with Cambodian officials about the incident.

Meanwhile, Cambodia's immigration department said 230 foreigners, mostly Vietnamese, were deported from the kingdom Friday after they were detained for illegal entry, overstaying or other visa violations.

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