One year on, the pain still remains
November 24, 2008 Monday, 06:00 AM
Carolyn Quek looks at questions lingering from the dragon boat tragedy.
YESTERDAY marked the first death anniversaries of the five rowers who died tragically in last year’s Cambodian dragon boat accident.
As family and loved ones held a commermorative service to remember the five men, several questions remain.
For example, was the welfare of survivors and their parents being overlooked?
Ms Pamela Seeto, mother of one of the survivors, thinks so.
The housewife still remembers Nov 24, 2007 - the day her friend came knocking on her door, asking her to read the newspapers.
"When I saw the headline, five dragon boaters missing... I went screaming and crying," the housewife, who is in her 50s, recalls as she spoke to reporters at the memorial service.
Her younger son, Darren Tan, now a 21-year-old first year undergraduate, was one of the 22 rowers representing Singapore in a traditional boat race in Cambodia.
There had been no calls or messages from him and she started to panic.
"Then I realised I had turned off my handphone," Ms Seeto recounted.
Switching on her mobile, she heaved a sigh of relief when she saw that Mr Tan had sent her a text message at 9.08pm - Ms Seeto can remember the time precisely.
It was also a few hours after his team mates went missing in the Tonle Sap River.
The families of the survivors too have been through a lot, given that the surviving men had also had near-death experiences.
Ms Seeto felt however that follow-ups on the part of the survivors and families after they returned was not enough.
She cited how the parents of the survivors were not invited to a closed-door briefing about the Safety Inquiry Panel report when it was released at the end of May.
The panel was set up in the wake of the accident and had met only with the families of the rowers who had died.
But Ms Seeto felt it should have been extended to parents like herself. After all, their sons were involved in the same accident, and their families had a right to know how their safety had been compromised.
Also, besides a few group counselling sessions that the survivors received on their return to Singapore, the survivors have been largely left alone, she said.
One year on, the hurt also continues to run deep for the families of the five rowers.
Differences, it seems, remain unresolved between the families and the Singapore Dragon Boat Association (SBDA).
While they had called for a press conference in July to ask for an apology from the SBDA, the association had responded a few days later by saying that it was not going to do as as it was found not responsible for the accident by the SI panel.
But family members at the memorial service pointed out, it was not under the safety panel's purview in the first place to pinpoint who was responsible for the tragedy.
At a regatta also held yesterday, the parents had also noted that there was no minute's silence observed for their boys.
There were no obituaries placed by the association to mark the one-year anniversary of the rowers.
It led the families to wonder, had the SBDA forgotten about the five men?
But the families clearly have not forgotten about the men, as they sought to commemorate their lives at the emotionally-charged memorial service.
The sobbing younger brother of Mr Chee Wei Cheng was the first to take the stage.
"This one year has been very hard for me and especially my mother," Wei You told those who had gathered at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Jurong East.
"He was our life... without him, our lives are so empty."