When a boat carrying 41 Chinese nationals sank off the coast of Sihanoukville last week, another boat was nearby carrying two Cambodians, said a provincial official.
Authorities took them into custody as they worked to rescue survivors, and the investigation has now turned to finding out the connection between the two boats and what was really behind the people smuggling, a provincial spokesperson said.
The boat sank off the coast of Koh Tang on Thursday last week. Eighteen of the 41 passengers were immediately rescued, and in the following days 12 further survivors were found.
Nine of them were found washed onto land in Vietnamese territory, said Kheang Phearum, spokesperson for the Preah Sihanouk provincial administration.
Three dead bodies have also been found so far, and the search for the eight missing passengers still continues, though bad weather on Wednesday put the activities on hold.
Phearum said there were still unanswered questions. Rescued victims had told of being transferred from a bigger boat on which they had traveled from China onto the wooden boat that capsized. And there was another boat nearby at the time of the incident..
“We found on that [boat] these two Cambodian people, and when we asked them they said they were fishermen,” Phearum said. “[The authorities] are working on it: Why was there a boat close to the other boat? The authorities must question and continue the investigation: How are they connected to each other?”
“We can make a preliminary conclusion that they crossed the border illegally,” he said. “During the questioning, some victims [said they] did not know their destination, and that there was a broker who took them out of China to reach the international waters.”
But their stated destinations varied: Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia. “This is a point that needs to be very deeply questioned and investigated, to find the mastermind. When we find the mastermind or broker, it will become very clear about the intention and crimes,” Phearum said.
Some rescued individuals had said they believed they were being given fishing jobs, but the testimonies were inconsistent.
“They’ve spoken differently from each other, so it needs a thorough investigation,” he said. “If they are fishers, what evidence [do they have] to show that they are fishers, and how can they be fishers without documents?”
Some of the rescued have been passed on to the Chinese consulate, but others are considered more suspicious and questioning continues, he said.