‘The Vessel was Overloaded’

By Kyaw Kha & Khin Oo Tha 17 March 2015

On Friday, the Aung Tagun-3 ferry ran into high seas and sank during a voyage from Taungup to the Arakan State capital of Sittwe, a few hours after leaving the port town of Kyaukphyu.

According to state-run newspapers, the ferry had 218 people on board when it sunk near Myebon. The number of tickets sold, however, suggested that at least 250 people were traveling on the ferry, and witnesses have put the number of passengers in excess of 300, well above the vessel’s capacity. As of Tuesday morning, 56 bodies had been recovered from the water, with a further 169 people rescued.

The Irrawaddy discussed Friday’s tragedy with survivors of the shipwreck and locals who assisted in the rescue effort.

Maung San Win, 48, of Htan Pyine Village, Ramree Township

The ferry left Kyaukphyu around 4 pm on Mar. 13. We passed a place called Naung Taw around 6pm when water began flooding the hold after the big waves hit the ferry. The vessel was overloaded. The sea was stormy there, but that is usual for the area. When the water started flooding, sailors asked the travelers to move from side to side in the boat. Minutes later, we were told the bow was sinking and we were asked to move to the back.

Then, the left side of the ferry sank. People cried for help as if it was the end of the world. There were around 200 people overboard and floating in the water.

The ferry was loaded with iron rods, cement bags and teak doors, but no one had a life jacket. When the ferry began to sink, a monk from Sittwe told sailors to throw these things into the water, saying that lives were more important than objects. The sailors did not listen to him.

Luckily enough, I got hold of a barrel and I survived. I was travelling alone to Myebon and my family members stayed behind in Ramree. I had to stay in the water for around an hour after the ferry sank and was rescued by a fishing boat nearby. I think there were more than 300 people on board. More than 100 people were saved by fishing boats but the Navy only arrived the next morning.

Nu Khin, 41, the mother of a victim from Yathaedaung

We went to Yathaedaung from Kyaukphyu to ordain my three sons. Our entire family of eight was on board. My boy is missing and we still have not recovered his body. My father and older brother have gone to identify the body.

As soon as water flooded the ferry, our family was separated. I had to swim for a long time in the water before a fishing boat rescued me. When we were brought to the shore, my son was missing. He was 10 years old.

A Lone Chay, 60, of Taunggok

I was going from Taungup to Kyauktaw. The vessel was overloaded and was tilting in the storm. Travelers were asked by sailors to move from side to side when the ferry tilted sideways. Then water flooded in and the ferry began to sink. Some jumped into water. I grabbed a bag of charcoal that floated near me and I was saved by a fishing boat with my grandchild.

Tun Lwin, spokesman for the Kyaukphyu Social Network

The ferry departed Kyaukphyu for Myebon around 4 pm. It sunk around between 8 and 9 pm near Myauk Island. The government announced that 192 people were on board, but there were a number of unregistered passengers. Civil society organizations estimate there were more than 300 people onboard.

After the ferry sunk, police and firefighters from Kyaukphyu went to the scene. As it is a three-hour journey, they arrived there around 4-5am the next day. Many passengers were already dead by that time.

Locals also helped rescue the survivors with boats and powered schooners. At around 9am, CSOs from Kyaukphyu went to the scene to recover bodies. The Navy had arrived by that time, but there were no more survivors.

The Navy has sent survivors and corpses separately to Kyaukphyu and Sittwe. So far, 167 passengers have survived and 55 bodies have been recovered. But we don’t know about the total number of bodies recovered near Myebon.

Rescue work is still continuing, but it was not the Navy that was risking life and limb to save people like it was reported on Skynet and other media. It was civilians who are diving down into the water to rescue and recover bodies from the sunken ferry. They have no diving suits, nothing.