RANGOON – A border police major from northern Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township confirmed to The Irrawaddy under the condition of anonymity that four policemen went missing after a schooner capsized in a local river early Sunday evening.
The officers were returning from clearance operations in the Tin May village tract of neighboring Buthidaung Township.
“Security forces have discovered the vessel but have not found the bodies yet,” he said.
According to the police major, the missing policemen were from Taungbazar border police station. The Irrawaddy obtained a police report on the incident on Monday, stating that a police major named Ye Zaw Htut had led one dozen policemen to the Kyaung Taung border police station as reinforcements. Another 19-man team led by another police major, Nay Lin Htet had joined Maj Ye Zaw Htut as they received a tip-off concerning militant activities near the Tin May region on Sunday.
The Maj Ye Zaw Htut-led security team traveled along local waterways to return to the Kyaung Taung border police station on three schooners after “clearing territory” in Tin May village. But the vessel which carried Maj Ye Zaw Htut and six officers unexpectedly overturned when it encountered a strong current.
Maj Ye Zaw Htut, Cpl Khin Maung Than, LCpl Ko Ko Aung and Tun Lin Htike were still missing as of Monday evening. According to local media reports, three other policemen and the schooner driver, identified simply as a man named Mustafa, had survived the incident.
The police report stated that police discovered the empty vessel near the shore of Kyaun Pauk. In it were two assault rifles and four magazines with two hundred rounds of bullets, but no one remained on board. The border police called in reinforcements to search for the passengers.
The report did not elaborate on whether the vessel had life jackets on board, or if the boat was owned privately or by the government.
Rakhine State’s transportation system is dominated by ferries, speedboats, and shipping routes but operators are notorious for not applying safety measures, including provisions of life vests, and a number of people have killed in the region in tragic boating accidents.
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; only 72 dead bodies were discovered.