A woman was found dead and a man found alive in the waters off the coast of Sihanoukville Friday, a day after a boat carrying 41 Chinese nationals sank near Koh Tang island, Preah Sihanouk provincial officials said.
Twenty-one of the 41 people remain missing, provincial spokesperson Kheang Phearum said in a Facebook post.
“Authorities are still searching for the missing,” said Long Dimanche, deputy provincial governor.
Eighteen passengers were rescued by authorities after the boat sank at around 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, Dimanche said.
He declined to say whether the Chinese nationals were attempting to enter Cambodia illegally or being trafficked as police were still questioning them.
“We save people’s lives first. We will also find out the purpose of why they came to Cambodia, whether it is legal or illegal,” he said.
Preah Sihanouk police chief Chuon Narin could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Chengui Sheng, one of those pulled from the sea on Thursday, told police that the group was from China’s Fujian Province, according to a provincial administration statement.
The administration said it would pay 2 million riel (about $500) to anyone who finds a missing victim from the boat.
Authorities detained and were questioning two Cambodians who were on another boat, it said.
Rebecca Miller, a human trafficking expert at the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime’s regional office, said trafficking and migrant smuggling occurs within Southeast Asia, and from the region to other parts of the world, and organized crime groups and independent traffickers and smugglers facilitate these crimes.
While it was difficult to say who might be involved with the Chinese nationals left adrift off the coast of Preah Sihanouk, Miller said “migrant smuggling and human trafficking into Sihanoukville is not new.”
To combat the crimes, she said, “Leaders need to acknowledge the situation, the rule of law needs to be upheld, and law enforcement and justice agencies need to step up to ensure that transnational organized crime networks are not operating with impunity in Cambodia.”
Additional reporting by Matt Surrusco