Drug traffickers target Chinese sailors on Mekong River

Chinese ships in the Chian Saen river port. 
 
Thirteen Chinese sailors were killed on the Mekong River when drug traffickers attacked their boats on Wednesday, October 5. The attack took place in the Golden Triangle, a jungle area on the border between Thailand, Burma and Laos notorious for its opium production. A sailor who works in the Golden Triangle brought us his account (below).
 
The bodies of the two boats’ crew members were found near the river port of Chiang Saen, in northern Thailand. According to a Thai army spokesman, the men were killed by traffickers attempting to hijack their boats to smuggle drugs into Thailand. Authorities succeeded in intercepting the boats, on which they found 2.3 million euros worth of methamphetamine pills. The attackers managed to flee the scene. The Thai army said on Monday that members of a gang controlled by Nor Kham, a drug trafficker from the Shan ethnic group, carried out the attack.
 
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has exhorted Thailand and Burma to take concrete steps to guarantee the security of Chinese ships in the region. Out of 130 international trade ships navigating on the Mekong river, 116 are Chinese-owned.
 
The Huaping, one of the two ships attacked by drug traffickers on October 5.
Contributors

“Sailors are scared of going down that part of the river”

 
“N21Degree1973” (an online pseudonym – N21 stands for the geographic coordinates of the Golden Triangle) is from southwest China. He works on a trade ship and navigates between China and Thailand three to four times per month. He took photos of the victims after the attacks and posted them on the Chinese online discussion forum Tianya on October 7, along with this blog post.
 
Out of two attacked ships, one was Chinese and the other registered in Burma, but both of the crews were Chinese. The traffickers got on board and forced the crew members to navigate towards Thailand. When river police realised that the ships weren’t obeying orders to stop, a shootout broke out between security forces and the traffickers. [One trafficker was killed.] But by the time the police managed to board the ships, the traffickers had already fled on a little speedboat. All there was on the ship was lots of drugs, and blood. Two days later, the bodies of one of the captains and a 17-year-old crewmember were fished out from the water. I went to photograph their bodies [all thirteen bodies were found and identified after this post was published]. It was a really awful sight. The captain had been handcuffed and shot twice in the stomach. The young sailor’s head had been wrapped in duct tape, and he was shot several times in the back.
 
One of the victims of the attack. 
 
“Many sailors have decided to go back to China”
 
Gangs are everywhere in the Golden Triangle [several armed gangs, organised by ethnicity, are fighting for control of drug trafficking routes in the region]. I don’t know a single sailor that isn’t scared of going down that part of the river. These security problems are nothing new: in 2007, a sailor had already been killed in the same area, but the attackers were never found. In February 2008, drug traffickers shot at Chinese policemen, injuring three. Last April, three ships were hijacked and the attackers obtained 150,000 Thai baht [about 3,550 euros] in exchange for the hostages. In August, a tourist ship was attacked. The attackers stole everything they could and fled the scene.
 
Bullet holes on one of the ships. 
 
There were no victims on the police’s side on the October 5 raid. I know from experience that unfortunately, the Thai armed forces care little or nothing about the lives of Chinese crew members. That’s why I want Chinese authorities to get on the case. I hope that they will open an in-depth investigation to find those behind the attacks so that we can finally work safely.
 
Following this last attack, many sailors have decided to go back to China. Chinese trade ships have even decided to stop taking this route for a while [the Chinese ministry of Foreign Affairs has declared an interruption to Chinese commercial traffic on the north Mekong].”
 
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