In Koh Chamroeun village, part of Kandal province’s Loeuk Dek district, a new ferry is plying its trade, while serving as a reminder of the lives lost and taking an earnest step towards a safer future.
It has been nearly a year since the events of October 2022, when the sinking of a vessel claimed the lives of 11 students. The sorrow of their loss still reverberates through the community.
Amidst this backdrop, district authorities have introduced a new water taxi service for the village, complete with life jackets for each passenger.
Loeuk Dek district governor Chap Chanvithyea told The Post that the district administration initiated this project to help residents and students who depend on boat crossings, particularly during the rainy season.
“The boat will be used by both residents and students,” he explained.
Chanvithyea emphasised that life jackets are now mandatory for every passenger during the crossing. The boat will be overseen by two security guards, who are responsible for directing traffic and ensuring the safety of all aboard. Should an incident occur, the governor said effective protocols are in place to ensure swift rescue operations.
He added that although the boat has the capacity to carry 30 people, it has been limited to 20. This constraint arises from the necessity to accommodate motorcycles as well.
Situated about 500 metres from the previous docking area in Koh Chamroeun, the new boat is free for all passengers.
“The district authorities, with the support of Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophorn, are planning to construct a concrete bridge during the next low water season,” he added.
Funding for this upcoming infrastructure project will be provided by former Prime Minister Hun Sen.
NovTouch, the chief of Kampong Phnom commune, noted that in the wake of the accident that took the lives of 11 students, safety measures were tightened for ferry operators.
“A significant development is the construction of a new concrete bridge, benefitting not only Koh Chamroeun village residents but also students and members of surrounding communities,” he said.
“Currently, two ports are administered by the Loeuk Dek district authorities, and offer free boat crossings. As the boat is district-owned, all costs of the service are covered by the district administration, sparing the residents any financial burden,” he explained.
On October 13, 2022, at around 7pm, a tragedy unfolded. A ferry sank near the village, leading to the loss of 11 students aged between 12 and 14. Two adults and two children were fortunately rescued.
This chapter has been a catalyst for change, compelling the community and the authorities to reassess and upgrade safety measures.
The sorrow remains a burden, yet the people of Koh Chamroeun village and the wider Loeuk Dek district see the new developments as crucial steps towards not just recovery, but resilience.
With life jackets for each passenger, security guards, and plans for a new bridge, a veil of safety is being drawn over a community still in the process of healing.
The chief of Kampong Phnom commune, attributed the tragedy to negligence by the boat owner and the driver, which resulted in the boat striking the riverbank and subsequently sinking.
To address the issue of travel safety for students, the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport stepped in with specific instructions.
Issued on October 20, 2022, and disclosed to The Post by ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha, guidelines from education minister Hang Chuon Naron acknowledge that each year sees a number of accidents involving both students and educators during their commute to educational institutions.
These mishaps are particularly prevalent during the rainy season and in flood-prone areas.
The guidelines went on to note that educational facilities situated near rivers, notably the Tonle Sap, as well as in other low-lying regions, are vulnerable to flooding, leading to environmental damage and posing risks to both property and human life.
In light of these challenges, the ministry directed various administrative bodies to increase their monitoring of weather conditions.
They were instructed to inform schools about impending weather-related risks, including but not limited to road conditions, storms, floods, rainfall, and changing water levels in rivers and lakes.
They also called for enhanced inspections of all vehicles and boats commonly used by students and educators. Should any be discovered to be lacking in safety features, immediate improvements are advised. The guidelines also stressed the role of parents in this safety net.
“Parents should advise their children to be careful and select the safest methods of travel,” they advised.
“Parents should collaborate with the authorities by providing information on any unsafe transportation services or those that breach the law. If required, parents should personally undertake the responsibility of transporting their children to and from school, rather than allowing them to commute unattended,” they added.