Eight girls and two boys were missing yesterday after a small ferry consisting of two wooden longboats capsized while crossing the Nam Ngum river in Pakngum district, Vientiane.
A rescue team gathers with local residents and officials to locate the missing children after the ferry capsized. –Photo Vientiane Rescue Team
The missing children were primary school pupils from Nabong village who cannot swim well and were crossing the river to take their final year exams at a school in Thakokhai village.
A local resident who asked not to be named told Vientiane Times the ferry was carrying about 40 people, including the skipper, villagers, teachers and a motorbike, and was sitting very low in the water.
Fortunately the 30 other people in the boat survived the disaster because they could swim or were assisted by others.
“The ferry capsized when it reached the middle of the river. For its size, it should have been carrying only 10-20 people,” one witness said.
The Vientiane Rescue Team, including divers, immediately headed to the scene after receiving a telephone call from local residents, a team member said.
More than 10 divers searched for the missing children in the river but were unable to find them because of the strong current.
The rescue team official said the divers might take a couple of days to locate those who were still missing, adding “but we hope to discover them soon”.
Pakngum district Governor Mr Vongdeuane Bounyasaeng said district authorities had sent officials to investigate the incident after detaining the ferry boat skipper who will be interviewed to establish his level of responsibility.
One concerned citizen said that to prevent further tragedies all ferry boats should be equipped with life jackets and passengers should be made to wear them.
There has been an outpouring of support on social media for those still missing as well as for their families. Authorities are continuing their efforts to ascertain the whereabouts of the missing children.
Local residents said this was the third such incident involving small riverboats in the last three to four years, but yesterday’s accident was by far the most serious. River communities have been urging authorities to build a bridge across this section of the Nam Ngum to prevent further tragedies.