Boat sinks near Cambodia, killing at least 1 Chinese passenger — Radio Free Asia

At least one person is dead and 19 more are missing after a boat carrying 41 Chinese passengers sank in the Gulf of Thailand, authorities said Friday.

The small wooden fishing boat was sailing near Cambodia’s Koh Tang island on Thursday on its way to Sihanoukville in the country’s southwestern city, a city that has seen an influx of Chinese expats and a wave of labor fraud cases of people smuggling.

Authorities have not yet said why the 38 men and three women tried to reach Cambodia by boat.

Rescue workers were able to pick up 18 people when the boat began to slide underwater, but a further 23 were initially reported missing.

On Friday, three men who had been on board were found alive, while another woman was found dead, according to an Associated Press report citing an official in Sihanoukville province.

The passengers began their trip in the Chinese port city of Guangzhou on Sept. 11 aboard a speedboat before transferring to the Cambodian fishing boat on Sept. 17 in international waters, Sihanoukville’s provincial police chief, Gen. Chuon Narin, was quoted as saying by local media. to the AP report.

After the boat began to sink, another Cambodian boat came to rescue the two Cambodian crew members, leaving the Chinese passengers behind, he said. The two have since been arrested for questioning.

Cambodian authorities are still looking for the remaining 19 Chinese nationals and are offering a 2 million riel ($484) reward to anyone who rescues any of them.

Although the purpose of their trip has not been confirmed, they may have been tricked into working illegally in Sihanoukville, Cheap Sotheary, provincial project coordinator for The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“Ring leaders have distributed [human trafficking victims] to other provinces [across Cambodia],” she said. “Victims don’t fly in, they use cars or boats.”

RFA recently reported several other cases of migrants being trafficked to Cambodia through Sihanoukville.

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Chinese nationals walk down a pier to an island in Preah Sihanouk Province, southwestern Cambodia, after being rescued from a sinking boat, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. Credit: Preah Sihanouk Provincial Authority Police via AP

Diaspora reacts

Economic conditions in China may be why the 41 Chinese may have tried to sneak into Cambodia, a Chinese businessman identified by his surname Fan told RFA’s Mandarin Service.

China has been devastated economically by its zero-covid policy, which has included the closure of commerce in many of its cities. People who depend on their jobs to survive have had to make do with little or no income.

“This tragedy happened because there was no job opportunity in China and they tried their best to escape,” Fan said.

The news was shocking to a man from Guangzhou, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

“Who wants to leave their hometown and go abroad with big language barriers?” he said, noting that although Guangzhou is one of the most prosperous regions in China, the economy is very poor and it is not easy to find a job there.

He said the incident was reminiscent of the 1970s when people were smuggled to Hong Kong from Guangzhou.

“It’s really miserable right now. People used to be smuggled into the United States, but now they’re being smuggled into Cambodia,” he said.

China’s poorest citizens are willing to take desperate risks for a better life elsewhere, a tourism expert surnamed Luo, who specializes in Chinese tourism in Vietnam, told RFA.

For Canadian human rights activist and journalist Sheng Xue, the incident brought back memories of the people-smuggling tragedy in 2000, when 58 Chinese were found suffocated to death in the back of a truck in Britain

“Why is it that the Americans and the Japanese don’t smuggle themselves [to other countries]? Why do the Chinese?” she told RFA. “China’s political system restricts everyone’s right to freedom, so that’s to blame.”

Chinese stowaways are trying to get to any place that will give them freedom, democracy, human rights, dignity, security and a little bit of money, she said.

Additional reporting by Qi Desai for RFA Mandarin. Translated by Samean Yun and Zirong Ye. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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