Boat Accident Kills Six in Arakan State

By Moe Myint 8 September 2016

RANGOON – Six women died when a passenger boat capsized on the Nat Kan river in northern Arakan State’s Taungup Township, according to police inspector U Win Hlaing.

On Wednesday morning, boat owner U Shwe Owe picked up ten women and nine men from Taungup market in Yay Kaung Phyu village on Sagu Island, Ramree Township.

Usually boat operators will not attempt to navigate the larger channels during the rainy season due to the presence of rougher, bigger waves and will instead use smaller, calmer waterways. U Shwe Owe travelled across the larger waterway, however, and his boat was struck by a large wave, which, it is believed, caused it to capsize.

Police said three bodies had been retrieved from the water on Wednesday and on Thursday morning they found two more. One woman is still missing, and is presumed dead by police. Two more are currently receiving medical treatment at Taungup hospital. Two of the women and the nine men on board were not harmed.

Boat owner U Shwe Owe is believed to be on the run and police have been making enquiries regarding his whereabouts in villages near the Nat Kan river. The police have filed cases for causing death by negligence and careless driving, under articles 304 (a) and 280 of the Criminal Code, respectively.

Police inspector U Win Hlaing said survivors had reported that the vessel did not provide life jackets for passengers. He added that a lack of safety knowledge in that region is not uncommon and that a majority of boat owners do not follow safety guidelines.

The Arakanese social activist U Kyaw Zeya, who lives in Taungup, said that it is common practice in the region for boat operators to drink liquor during the rainy season, as they believe it prevents them from catching a cold while on the water. The police inspector could not verify whether U Kyaw Zeya’s assertions applied in the case of U Shwe Owe.

Wednesday’s incident was the third boating accident in Arakan State this year. On June 1, the first day that Burmese schools resumed after a long holiday, seven children died when a boat filled beyond capacity capsized near Poe Shwe Pyin village outside of the town of Ponnagyun.

On August 19 a boat carrying 17 schoolchildren between villages in Rathedaung Township sank, killing four girls aged between 11 and 14. Linking the three tragedies is the fact that none of the boats had life jackets on board.

The Arakan State government has warned ferry businessmen to include life jackets on their boats or risk having their licenses revoked. However, many in society say this approach will not work.

Activist U Kyaw Zeya believes this “talk and no action” is not enough to save the lives of local Arakanese. He urged the Arakan State government to push local staff to strictly supervise boat owners and provide awareness on the ground.

“‘Time for change’ is not enough,” he said “To bring about change on the ground is the responsibility of the government; lower level staff must work harder.”

Home to an expanse of creeks, rivers and coastline, Arakan State’s transportation system is dominated by ferries, speedboats, and shipping routes. On March 13, 2015, the government-owned Aung Ta Kon (3) ship, running between Sittwe and Kyaukphyu, sank near the Naungdawgyi Sea in Myebon Township.

The boat was overloaded with various goods and around 300 passengers. According to local publications, at least 160 people died in the accident; only 72 dead bodies were discovered. The Arakan State government has since suspended the route.