Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Operator detained after crane collapse kills 5

Police and local officials help victims at the site of a crane collapse in Poipet City that killed five on August 12. Supplied

Poipet city military police detained for questioning the operator of a crane that collapsed at a construction site on August 12, killing five people and injuring four who resided next to the site.

Poipet City Military Police Commander Nuon Ninaro said that police and military police arrived on the scene in Phsar Kandal commune after the accident and detained the crane operator, Tuth Livin, 20, for questioning at the military police office.

“We detained the crane’s driver … and we are still questioning him and our authorities are investigating more details,” Ninaro said.

He said Livin confirmed that while he was controlling the crane at around 3pm, a sudden wind picked up and the ground below the crane cracked and sank, causing it to fall. 

Ninaro said that when the crane tipped over, the 4-meter-square concrete slabs fell on the neighbor’s house below, killing five women who were sitting on wooden bed playing cards in front of their home.

A local police report identified the dead as Chhean Hong, 49; Chao Ly, 50;  Yeay Loek Srey, 66; Seng Muykea, 57; and Doem Srey Nak, 36 died, while Phorn Sok Thida, 30; Ka Somamean, 37; Sao Rith, 40, and Khann Sreydy, 27, were injured.

“Two of the injured victims were sent for treatment at Poipet City Referral Hospital and the two seriously injured victims were sent to Mongkul Borei Hospital, then one of the seriously injured victims was sent on to a hospital in Phnom Penh,” Ninaro said.

According to the report, the crane was about 40 meters long, and was lifting concrete slabs measuring 4 meters square and 12 centimeters thick at the time it fell. The slabs were being carried at a height of about 20 meters when the accident occurred, it noted.

Poipet City Police Chief Thin Sindeth confirmed the incident but declined to comment further.

Chov Sophoeuth, director of Poipet City’s land management bureau, said the residential building was being developed by The Park City Company, which is owned by a Cambodian national who lives in Phnom Penh.

“Yesterday [Wednesday] the provincial land management department director [Ang Narith] and I went down to inspect the scene and saw that it is a technical mistake of machinery.”

He said that the company should be held responsible for the accident, and added that it had obtained the necessary permits to build.

“The company is responsible [for this problem],” Sophoeuth said, explaining the company had been careless and negligent in its control of the building site.

He added that although he often reviews construction sites in Poipet and gives feedback to the companies on building regulations, only some builders follow his advice and respect the law.

“I cooperate with provincial land management department officials who always go down to disseminate information to [construction sites] in the past,” Sophoeuth said.  

The company had provided $300 to the family of each of the deceased, and Provincial Governor Oum Reatrey had donated $250 to each family, plus donations of milled rice and other goods, according to Sophoeuth.

On August 12, Reatrey had visited the scene shortly after the incident and ordered his officials to temporarily close the construction site for further investigation. When reached by phone the following day, he declined to comment, saying he was busy with a meeting. 

Sok Kin, president of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia, said relevant institutions must strive to improve construction site safety and must follow the Law on Construction that was passed by the National Assembly in November last year.

“From what I see, the relevant authorities are lacking when it comes to going to inspect whether the construction sites are following the law or not and whether the construction sites are following building standards based on the law,” Kin said.

Kin continued that the company’s security and safety department must hold daily meetings to advise all workers before allowing them to enter the worksite, and should also provide adequate safety equipment to employees.

“The person who has the most responsibility in this case is the construction company,” Kin said, adding that workers should not be punished for unintentional technical mistakes, but they should be warned and educated.

Banteay Meanchey Provincial Police Chief Ath Khem, could not be reached for comment.

A member of The Park City Poipet Company’s sales staff who did not give her name said that the case would be dealt with by the company, but she said she did not know any detailed information. 

The Land Management Ministry earlier this year issued a nationwide directive banning construction without a permit and prohibiting construction employees from living on worksites. 

A construction boom in Cambodia has resulted in a spate of deadly accidents at building sites since 2019.

In June last year, the collapse of a seven-story Chinese-owned building in Sihanoukville killed 28 and injured 26 workers. Authorities have said that the construction was taking place without a permit, and local officials had ordered work to be halted several times, but were not heeded by site managers. Five suspects including four Chinese nationals and one Vietnamese national were sentenced to up to three years in prison on July 30 this year.

Early this year, another seven-story building under construction collapsed in Kep province’s Kep City, killing 36 people, including children, and injuring 23 others. No one has been charged in the case after the two Khmer owners of the building were released on bail.

In December 2019, three people were killed and more than a dozen sustained critical injuries in a building collapse at a temple in Siem Reap province’s Siem Reap City.

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