Police charge captain over deadly Myanmar ferry sinking

Rescue workers on the sunken ferry partially lifted from the water near the river bank on the Chindwin River in Sagaing region, Myanmar, on Oct 18, 2016.
Rescue workers on the sunken ferry partially lifted from the water near the river bank on the Chindwin River in Sagaing region, Myanmar, on Oct 18, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar police said Tuesday (Nov 1) they have brought charges punishable by a long jail term against the captain of an overloaded river ferry that sank last month, killing dozens of people.

A total of 73 people, including scores of teachers and university students, died when the boat capsized on the Chindwin River on its way to the central city of Monywa on Oct 15.

Dozens of bloated corpses were swept downriver from the scene of the disaster, some 70 kilometres north of the city, while others were found when workers dragged the hull to the surface.

Four people were arrested at the time but the captain and the boat's owner fled the scene.

The skipper, Zaw Myo Win, later turned himself in to Monywa authorities. He was charged with careless driving of a vessel and causing death by negligence, police said.

The crimes are punishable by more than 10 years in prison.

"We have now arrested him and charged him... and are investigating the case," said Tin Maung Myint, the head of police in Kani township where the boat sank.

The size of the death toll shocked Myanmar, where many rely on rickety old ferries for transport along a network of flood-prone river systems.

Last month President Htin Kyaw pledged a "systematic investigation" into the incident and to "take action against those who are responsible".

Thin Thin Aung, 62, who lost her baby granddaughter and her son-in-law, said she wanted to see the boat's owner - who is still at large - jailed for life.

"The boat owners... are rich and they can't control their greed. They knew how many people their boat can carry but they did not care," she told AFP.

"I want them to spend the rest of their life in jail."

Local MP Tun Tun Win said the region was now facing a shortage of teachers and health workers because so many died in the disaster.

"The boat sank because it was overloaded, against regulations, but there are still many boats running in this region that are breaking the rules," he said.