Buth Reaksmey Kongkea
Dragon boat teams steer towards the bank of the Tonle Sap river on Saturday as the first round of competitions kicked off in Phnom Penh. Two racers were injured in Saturday’s competition, while five boats capsized.
AN 8-year-old boy drowned on the first day of the Water Festival, while five boats were sunk after the first two days of races, leaving two competitors injured.
According to witness accounts reported to police, the boy was trying to collect bottles and empty cans that had been discarded at the Tonle Sap river’s edge on Saturday, when he was swept away by the river’s current and then submerged under the Royal Palace’s boat.
Phnom Penh deputy police chief Pen Rath said yesterday that authorities were still searching for the victim’s body.
“He disappeared on Saturday about noon near the Royal Palace’s parade, at the Water Festival ceremony, while he was swimming to collect the empty bottles and cans for sale,” he said.
He says the Water Festival attracts at least 100 children who swim in the river to collect rubbish for money every year, and that the police “have to prevent them from entry into the sites”.
He added that this year more police have been stationed along the river to prevent children from entering the water.
Meanwhile, five boats were sunk on the first two days of racing – two from a crash, and three from capsizing – which resulted in two injuries, one of which authorities said was serious.
“The reason why the boats sunk during the race is because some rowers do not have experience and they hit each other during the competition,” said Chea Kean, deputy general director of the National
Committee for Organising National and International Festivals. “However, they all are lucky because they were immediately rescued by competent rescue services.”
The NCONIF had little details about the injuries, but said that one paddler had sustained a serious arm injury, while another participant was in stable condition following a leg injury.
The other paddlers were picked up from the water by rescue boats. Police officials said that 5,000 officers have been deployed to the streets of Phnom Penh this year to ensure spectator safety and to regulate traffic.
Pen Rath said that four people had been arrested on allegations of theft, while two children who had been separated from their families were successfully returned once the parents were found.
The NCONIF said that 420 boats were taking part in this year’s festival, compared with 391 from last year.
According to Phnom Penh Municipality officials, an estimated 3 million people have travelled to the capital so far to take part in this year’s festivities.