Tens of Displaced People Dead Or Missing After Boat Accident

By Moe Myint 20 April 2016

RANGOON – Police officers have confirmed that a boat which capsized on Tuesday off the coast of Thae Chaung village, near the Arakan State capital of Sittwe, has left 18 dead and 19 survivors.

Aye Khin Maung, a police officer in Sittwe, told The Irrawaddy that the boat had departed from Sintatmaw, an internally displaced people’s (IDP) camp in Pauktaw Township. It was headed toward Sittwe, where those on board had hoped to purchase commodities before the rainy season, when travel becomes more difficult.

He described the passengers as “Bengali,” a term frequently used by local and government officials to label Arakan State’s Rohingya minority, who are denied Burmese citizenship.

According to Aye Khin Maung, the known casualties of the accident—caused by unexpectedly large waves—included 10 children, seven women and one man. Local authorities are still attempting to locate missing people; he said that the boat held a total of 49 passengers, 12 of whom remain unaccounted for.

There have been discrepancies between the reports made by local authorities and the information given by residents of the area, leading to conflicting details about who was on board.

Hla Win, 54, an ethnic Kaman Muslim in the Thae Chaung camp, told The Irrawaddy that as of Wednesday, 22 bodies had been discovered since the boating accident.

He confirmed that the victims were mostly women and children, but estimated that the boat had held not 49 passengers, but up to 75 people. Of these, he said half are still missing.

For those confirmed dead, Hla Win laments some of the deaths as preventable, had there been a better health care infrastructure in the area.

“Some people died on the way to the hospital because we had to ride almost one hour from Thae Chaung to Sittwe,” Hla Win said. “If we’d had emergency nursing care, we could have saved their lives.”

Police officer Aye Khin Maung added that there were reportedly no life jackets on the boat, which may have contributed to the high casualty rate.

Hla Win also claimed that the passengers were ethnic Kaman, rather than Rohingya, a statement which police officer Aye Khin Maung denied.

“As far as I know, there were no Kaman on the boat,” he said.

While both the Kaman and the Rohingya are Muslim minorities were displaced by ethno-religious violence which broke out in Arakan State in 2012, the Kaman are designated as one of the national, indigenous groups of Burma; the Rohingya are denied any documentation in the country.

In Arakan State, displaced people generally live under police surveillance and must seek official permission from the authorities to travel outside of the camps. In this case, Aye Khin Maung declined to comment on whether the passengers on the boat had received permission to leave the camp and go to the Sittwe market.

At the time of reporting, The Irrawaddy could not reach the camp’s security guards for further information on the issue.