At Least 28 Dead in Collapsed Resort Development in Cambodian Casino Hub

Posted on: June 24, 2019, 07:58h. 

Last updated on: June 24, 2019, 07:58h.

At least 28 people have been killed and dozens injured in the Cambodian casino town of Sihanoukville following the collapse of an under-construction resort that lacked the proper building permits.

Rescuers desperately try to free people trapped in the rubble. Around 60 construction workers had been using the unfinished building as temporary housing and were entombed when the structure collapsed. (Image: EPA-EFE)

The Chinese-owned building was part of a construction blitz that has overwhelmed the once sleepy backpacker town, transforming it into a Chinese casino hub in just a few years.

As the seven-story building collapsed in the early hours of Saturday morning, the floors concertinaed in, trapping construction workers, who were using the unfinished development as housing.

“All the workers were asleep,” one survivor told the Associated Press. “A moment before the building collapsed it was vibrating and then it was falling down. But it was too quick to escape.”

According to the BBC, around 1,000 people contributed to the rescue effort, struggling desperately to cut away steel beams and remove rubble to free those inside.

Arrests Made

It’s not known yet what caused the collapse, although one of the construction supervisors told The New York Times that the materials used at the site were inadequate. He said 12 members of his team were still missing.

On Sunday, the BBC reported that the building’s owner, the head of the construction firm, and the contractor — all Chinese — had been arrested, while a Cambodian landowner had been taken in for questioning.

Authorities said construction had been ordered to stop on several occasions because it was illegal, but it had carried on regardless.

On Monday, the governor of Sihanouk Province, Yun Min, offered his resignation for not doing enough to halt the project, while Prime Minister Hun Sen fired the Deputy Director of the National Committee of Disaster Management, Nhim Vanda, due to a “lack of responsibility, and for lying” about the tragedy.

Wild West for Casino Operators  

The incident raises troubling questions about unregulated building in Sihanoukville, which has been fuelled by Chinese gambling money flowing into a country where corruption is rife and health and safety laws lax.

There are now around 50 casinos in Sihanoukville, most of which have appeared in the past three years, with as many as 70 under construction. Meanwhile, the government is handing out casino licenses like candy.

The Khmer Times recently reported that 13 licenses had been issued already this year, while 150 were granted in 2018.

The new gambling venues have brought an influx of Chinese tourists and high rollers, while thousands of Chinese have arrived to work inside the casinos.

But Cambodians are banned from casino gambling by law, and few service-worker jobs go to non-Mandarin speakers, leaving residents of Sihanoukville to complain that very little of the billions in Chinese investments ends up in their pockets.

Its under-regulated nature makes Sihanoukville’s casino sector a wild west for unscrupulous operators. Crime is on the rise and reports of triad-related moneylending, kidnappings, and assaults are rife.

Existing local resentment of the Chinese gambling explosion will only be inflamed by Saturday’s tragedy.