Trafficking Boat Capsizes on Route to Cambodia Gambling Town, Three Dead, Eight Missing

Posted on: September 26, 2022, 12:25h. 

Last updated on: September 26, 2022, 01:00h.

Three people are dead and eight missing after a boat carrying trafficked workers to the Cambodian casino hub of Sihanoukville capsized last Thursday, the AFP reports.

An image of the sinking boat taken by fishermen who were able to throw ropes and life jackets to the stricken passengers. (Image: Ilkha)

Cambodian authorities said over the weekend they had rescued 21 people from the vessel, which ran into trouble in Vietnamese waters near Phu Quoc Island, around 50 miles south of Sihanoukville. Most of the passengers were Chinese nationals who had been promised jobs and were unaware they were being trafficked to Cambodia.

There have been numerous reports from Cambodia about human trafficking linked to the country’s illegal online gambling industry, much of which is believed to be controled by Chinese triads. As well as casinos, these criminals use forced labor to operate internet scam factories.

Sihanoukville, formerly a sleepy backpacker town, has been transformed into a gambling boomtown in recent years as investment has poured in from China.

As well as being home to dozens of land-based casinos, the city is the center of Cambodia’s online gambling industry, which mainly targets citizens in mainland China.

The industry was pushed underground when the Cambodian government banned online gambling from September 2019. That has made it difficult for operators to recruit workers legitimately.

Lured on Board

One survivor, Zhu Pingfan, 41, from Hunan province, told the AFP he had been persuaded to get on the boat with the promise of a $2,800 wage for a 20-day fishing trip.

Another, Huang Qian, 20, also from Hunan, said she believed she was headed for a city elsewhere in China and had been told to take the journey by her employer.

The boat left China’s Guangdong province on September 10. Once on board, the survivors said their passports were confiscated. Four days later, the passengers ran out of food. On day seven they ran out of water.

‘Floated for Two Days’

On the tenth day, they were transferred to a smaller wooden boat, which was stocked with two packets of instant noodles and a limited supply of water, according to the AFP. But the new boat capsized when water leaked into the engine,

We floated in the sea for two days,” Huang said. “We sat on an ice bucket, floating. Later we saw a fishing boat, so we called for help, and they threw rope to us.”

Cambodian authorities have not said whether any of the survivors were traffickers. However, they are questioning two Cambodians who were detained on a different boat.

Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, said Beijing was in close communication with Cambodian authorities about the incident.