Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

One Week After Boat Sank Off Sihanoukville 8 Chinese Remain Missing

Authorities with a group of Chinese nationals rescued after a boa, posted to the Preah Sihanouk provincial administration’s Facebook page on September 23, 2022.
Authorities with a group of Chinese nationals rescued after a boa, posted to the Preah Sihanouk provincial administration’s Facebook page on September 23, 2022.

Cambodian authorities have questioned 21 rescued Chinese nationals and transferred them to the Chinese Embassy after a boat carrying 41 Chinese sank off Sihanoukville’s coast one week ago, an official said.

“We are still looking for eight people that are missing, while nine people were found by Vietnamese authorities since last week,” said Kheang Phearom, the Preah Sihanouk provincial administration spokesperson.

The bodies of three Chinese nationals, one woman and two men, have been recovered, he confirmed on Thursday. Some of those rescued had received treatment at the provincial hospital.

The Chinese government would facilitate bringing the nine Chinese nationals rescued by Vietnamese authorities to Phnom Penh, Phearum said.

On Tuesday, the Navy’s anti-marine crime unit transferred the 21 Chinese nationals who were rescued by Cambodian authorities to officials from the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh, the spokesperson said. He referred additional questions about the group to the embassy, which did not respond to an emailed request for comment. 

Authorities last week detained and questioned two Cambodians who were on another boat near Koh Tang island, where the boat carrying the 41 Chinese people sank.

Preah Sihanouk police chief Chuon Narin said this week that the pair told authorities they came to help the people on the sinking boat, but he did not elaborate.

Narin earlier told government-aligned media portal Fresh News that one of the Chinese nationals said the group had traveled by speedboat from a port in China’s Guangdong province on September 11 and then were transferred to another boat with two Cambodian crew members in international waters. That boat broke down and later sank off Cambodia’s coast. Another boat picked up the two Cambodians, abandoning the Chinese nationals as their boat sank.

Chengui Sheng, one of the survivors pulled from the sea, told police that the group was from China’s Fujian Province.

The police chief did not answer questions about why the 41 Chinese nationals were traveling to Cambodia, referring a reporter to Touch Polak, director of the Interior Ministry’s marine border police.

Polak declined to comment. National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun also declined to comment, citing the pending investigation.

Cheap Sotheary, the Preah Sihanouk provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said the case of the sinking boat appeared to involve attempts to illegally cross Cambodia’s borders.

“We all think that if they came legally, they would not need to take a boat. If they came legally, they would have to cross the Cambodian border, so why should they transfer from a Chinese ship to a Cambodian boat? How can there be no contact, because without a connection, [the two] Cambodians can’t take all 41 Chinese on their own,” she said.

An expert at the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime’s regional office said last week that trafficking and migrant smuggling occur 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.

The smuggling of migrants and human trafficking into Sihanoukville “is not new,” the expert said.