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90 feared dead after Myanmar junta boat sinks in rough river waters

About 90 people, including students and teachers, were missing after a military junta supply boat sank in the Chindwin River in the northern Sagaing region after hitting a rock in the river, local residents told Radio Free Asia. 

A total of 13 vessels were traveling down the river when one of the larger boats overturned in a rough area near Mingin township on Tuesday, the residents said. It was loaded with goods and civilians and was being towed by a tugboat.

Many of those on board were university students heading to their school in Sagaing’s largest city, Monywa. Also on the boat were military junta departmental staff, family members of the pro-junta Pyu Saw Htee militia and some junta soldiers who were providing security for the vessel, local residents said. 

The sinking happened between Shea and Pan Set villages in a risky area called Shae Nat Taung slope, according to a Mingin township resident who refused to be named due to security reasons.

“It’s where the water is really rough, with a big rocky horn,” the resident told RFA. “The boat hit it and sank immediately.”

Six people are known to have survived; many passengers were below deck when the boat sank, the resident said. Local media reported on Wednesday that about 20 survivors were rescued and 10 bodies had been collected.

Rescue operations were halted on Wednesday because of the river’s strong current. The boat was submerged in deep water, the resident said. 

A Myanmar military vessel is seen on the Chindwin River in this undated photo. Credit: Anyar Pyitaingdaungs

Recovery preparations

Locals and defense forces said that most of the villages on both sides of the river are controlled by Pyu Saw Htee militia. The military shouldn’t have any security issues if it conducts a recovery operation, a local defense group leader said.

“Most of the people who were onboard the sunken vessel were those dealing with the military from Pyu villages along this waterway,” the leader said.” It depends on their willingness. It’s not a very difficult thing to do. But it doesn’t seem like they will do it.”

The remaining 12 vessels continued to travel downstream on Wednesday morning. Some junta soldiers were stationed near the site, according to another local resident who also refused to be named for security reasons.

“I can’t say exactly how many died and survived at the moment,” the second resident said. “We local people don’t dare to go near there.”

RFA contacted Tin Than Win, the junta’s minister of natural resources and Sagaing region spokesman, to ask about rescue operations. But he refused to talk, saying that he was in a meeting.

The military’s media team told reporters on Wednesday that one of the vessels that had left the town of Hkamti sank in a whirlpool near Mingin township, and they were still investigating details of the incident.

Local residents told RFA that another warship and an empty boat were already moving downriver toward the accident site. The two vessels arrived at the town of Kalewa in Mingin township on Wednesday and seemed to be preparing to recover the sunken vessel, the residents said. 

In October 2016, a passenger boat traveling downriver from Homalin to Monywa sank near Kani township’s Mi Kyaung Twin village, adjacent to Mingin township, killing at least 70 people, according to local residents.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.