PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Two Cambodian crew members abandoned their boat with 41 Chinese nationals on board as it sank in the Gulf of Thailand, leaving at least one person dead and 19 missing, authorities said Friday.
The small wooden fishing vessel foundered near Cambodia’s Koh Tang island on Thursday morning. Video shot from a rescue boat showed many on board crowded at the bow as the stern began to dip under the water.
Rescue workers yelled that more help was on its way and tossed life jackets and life-saving buoys toward the ramshackle boat as it slowly listed to the right and slipped below the surface, sending the passengers spilling into the water.
Eighteen people were rescued at the time but another 23 were reported missing. Three men were found alive on Friday and a woman was found dead, according to provincial government spokesperson Kheang Phearom.
Photos provided by local police show those rescued standing on a pier on the Cambodian mainland wearing garish holiday clothes, but it was not clear whether they had been provided to them after they were pulled out of the water.
Provincial police chief Gen. Chuon Narin told local media that the group of passengers had set off from the Chinese port of Guangzhou on Sept. 11 on a speedboat and had been transferred to the Cambodian fishing boat in international waters on Sept. 17.
The boat had been close to its destination of the Cambodian province of Sihanoukville when its engine stopped and it began to sink, he said.
Another Cambodian boat arrived and rescued the two Cambodian crew, leaving the Chinese passengers to fend for themselves, Chuon Narin said.
The two Cambodians were arrested and were being questioned by police.
It was not immediately clear why the Chinese were being brought to Cambodia, but Cambodian National Police deputy chief Gen. Chhay Sinarith said last month that authorities in recent years have uncovered numerous illegal online schemes luring workers to the country.
Last month, Taiwan’s government said 333 of its citizens were stuck in Cambodia after being lured by crime groups promising high wages for tech jobs.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters that his government is in close communication with Cambodian authorities about the incident.
"We urge the Cambodian side to spare no efforts to search and rescue the missing and find out what happened swiftly,” he said.
Cambodian authorities sought to enlist the assistance of private boat operators in the area, announcing a $500 reward for each passenger rescued.
Survivor Chengui Sheng told authorities that there had been 38 men and three women on board when the ship began to sink at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, Kheang Phearom said.
The people rescued have been taken to a nearby Cambodian naval base, he said.
Rising reported from Bangkok.