Myanmar ferry capsizes: Why is this tragedy so common?

A Myanmar ferry capsized in stormy weather, and thus far 34 people have been reported dead out of 216 registered passengers. How many unregistered passengers were on board?

DVB/AP
Survivors were saved after their ferry capsized near Kyaukphyu port, Myanmar.

After being overtaken by waves, a double-decker passenger ferry capsized off the northwestern coast of Myanmar late Friday night. The Associated Press reported that thus far 34 people have been killed with another dozen still missing.

Rescuers pulled capsizing victims from the waves, saving at least 167 people. The ferry was carrying 216 registered passengers from Kyaukphyu and travelled about 50 miles (80 kilometers) before encountering stormy seas in an area notorious for bad weather.

This sort of crash is not uncommon in Myanmar or elsewhere in Asia, due to a lack of enforcement of safety standards and overcrowding on the boats. Last month, two ferries capsized in Bangladesh, killing dozens. Nearly 40 people died in a Myanmar shipwreck in the Yway River in 2008, and 10 were killed in the Irrawaddy delta region when a Myanmar ferry capsized in 2010, reported AFP.

The ferries are a cheap form of transportation, and as such they are often old and overcrowded. Many of the areas serviced by ferries are also inaccessible by road, causing more people to rely on the old boats.

"We suspect that the boat sank because it was overloaded with goods," a police officer, who spoke anonymously, told AFP.

Many Myanmar citizens rely on this form of transportation, which often include unregistered passengers. In cases like this, it can be impossible to tell exactly how many people were on board when the ferry went down. Hla Shwe, a local, said it seems unlikely that they will ever know.

“We don’t know how many are still missing because some people were on board without official tickets,” Shwe told AFP. Another local, MP Maung Lone, estimated there were about 300 people on board.

Recently, communal violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims has also displaced as many as 140,000 people, who are trapped in displacement camps. The conflict is responsible for at least 200 deaths since 2012, reported The Guardian.

Thousands of Rohingyas have fled the area, causing them to crowd onto boats in order to escape persecution. Many boats head for Thailand and Malaysia, but it is known that they often are not seaworthy and struggle to reach their destinations. The Arakan Project, a rights group, estimated that about 100,000 Rohingya have fled by boat as of October 2012. This has also caused a rise in unregistered passengers.

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