Burma’s Ministry of Transportation on Wednesday said the government plans to compensate the families of passengers who died when the Aung Takon 3 ferry boat sank off the coast of Arakan State in March – but only to the fixed sum covered by the insurance included on each ticket: just 500,000 kyat (US$500).
Responding to a question in parliament from Khin Saw Wai, MP for the Arakanese constituency of Rathedaung, who asked if the government plans to replace antiquated ferry boats that no longer meet safety standards in order to prevent future disasters, Minister Han Sein said the ministry cannot compensate the victims for loss of life and belongings.
“As the passengers had only basic insurance covered by their tickets, we will compensate them with a single payment of 500,000 kyat,” said Han Sein. “We have no plans to offer compensation for loss of life and belongings as they were not covered by that insurance.”
He told the lower house that the ministry was reaching out to Japan for assistance to build new boats, particularly vessels “designed for the Burmese coast”, which can replace the rickety old ferries that currently navigate the often tempestuous seas in the Bay of Bengal.
Khin Saw Wai protested the minister’s response, saying the decision implied that passengers who boarded the ferry without tickets, but nevertheless paid for the journey, were not eligible for compensation, which was unfair as it is clear that port officials allowed them on board.
“This is unacceptable. It was a government-owned ferry and they should at least take responsibility for whatever was on board with official permission,” she said, before vowing to continue demanding compensation on behalf of all victims until a settlement is reached.
An official investigation into the incident by the Arakan State government concluded that 62 passengers had died, while 172 others were rescued.
The Aung Takon 3 sank on the night of Friday, 13 March, in rough seas off the coast of Myebon while sailing from Kyaukphyu to state capital Sittwe. The ferry was overcrowded, both with passengers and cargo, and reports surfaced that the captain and crew may have been drunk at the time the boat capsized.
The investigation commission alleged “serious negligence” on the part of the ship’s crew and port authorities.
The Aung Takon 3 was not registered with the International Maritime Organization, or IMO, meaning little official data is available to indicate what condition the boat was in or how regularly it was maintained. International maritime analysts were reported saying that one of the reasons for the ship’s sinking was its poor condition and old age.
No one has been arrested over the incident to date. According to Eleven News, 17 officials were punished following the investigation.
The assistant general manager and the deputy chief engineer at Sittwe Docks were both demoted, seven other staff there were forced to retire, two managers covering Arakan State and Kyaukphyu Township were dismissed, and six sailors were given pay cuts and banned from going aboard ships for a year, Eleven reported.