Kheang Phearom, spokesman for Cambodia’s Preah Sihanouk province, announced on his Facebook page on Saturday that nine more people had been rescued by the Vietnamese and three bodies had been recovered by Cambodia, leaving eight people still missing.
Survivors told Cambodian officials they started their journey in southern China.
Dramatic video footage showed the Cambodian crew on a nearby boat throwing life jackets and life rings towards the dilapidated vessel as it slowly slid to the right and slid below the surface, sending its passengers spilling into the water.
Two Cambodian crew members abandoned the boat when it got into trouble and were rescued early. The Cambodian police then call them guides and arrest them.
It was not immediately clear why the passengers were being brought to Cambodia, although the account given by survivors suggests they were tricked by human traffickers who sometimes lure people with bogus offers of lucrative jobs. They then force them into activities such as Internet scams to defraud people of their money, or prostitution, and only offer them freedom in exchange for large sums of money.
Preah Sihanouk provincial police chief General Chuon Narin told local media that the passengers left China’s Guangdong province on September 11 on a speedboat and were transferred to the fishing boat in the international waters on September 17.
Two survivors, a man and a woman who were being treated at the Preah Sihanouk provincial hospital, recounted extracts from their ordeal on Saturday in front of journalists.
Zhu Pingfan, 41, said he expected to earn 10,000 to 20,000 yuan ($1,400 to $2,800) for about 10 days of work as a fisherman.
“We boarded the boat and all of our belongings and electronics were confiscated. I thought it was no big deal, right? So I put them back,” he said. “Then after about three days. there was no more food. On the fourth day, there was nothing to drink. So for about four days we had nothing to eat or drink.
Huang Qian, 20, told a similar story and recalled how they were moved to a second boat, where each received two packets of instant noodles each and nothing more.
The situation became even grimmer when water entered the engine, disabling the ship. There were no life jackets on board when she had to abandon ship.
“I floated in the open sea for about two days,” she said. “We had a cooler and we were both sitting on the cooler and floating around. And then we saw a fishing boat, so we called for help. So they threw us a rope.