Reflections on the Penang dragon boat tragedy


Still coming to terms with the dragon boat tragedy in Penang.

For a gut-wrenching and descriptive eye-witness account of the scene in the aftermath of the tragedy, go here.

If what she says is true, the authorities and rescue services should seriously look into their response times – especially the helicopter and marine (including divers) search-and-rescue teams. Press photographers (and their editors) too need to be more sensitive in their work. And note that victims’ families do not appreciate onlookers gawking and gossiping…

Thanks to blog reader Iron for alerting me to the findings of a safety inquiry panel in Singapore which looked into another dragon boat tragedy in Cambodia in November 2007. That tragedy left five Singaporeans dead.

Something for us to think about this weekend.

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no doubt one must wear life jackets. but life jackets must be worn correctly for effectiveness. for example, when the jacket is strapped on, pull the shoulders of the jacket up, the buoyancy should not exceed your ears. if yes, when you fall in the water, your nose will be under water. in cases when the water is raging, current strong it makes little difference whether you are wearing life jackets or not. so the other part of water safety is to investigate the weather and current/tide report before you set out for training. we should not ban the sport… Read more »

Anthony Tan

Iron, I may not get your drift but one thing is for sure you memory disk is outdated. Please read carefully what I have written and I will repeat: “MOST rich kids and I guess maybe about 95% of them would not take up Dragon boat but would pass their time with friends at Starbuck or internet cafes or such places.” I had mentioned more venues than just “Starbuck” as above. Maybe you are from high above the middle income group that’s why you are so defensive. Maybe you have allowed your kid/s to have good life and to stand… Read more »

Anthony Tan

Most people taking up Dragon Boat rowing are from the Georgetown and south of it are from the middle and lower income group. Can you picture the distant and the cost to Teluk Bahang (it is a bit further than Teluk Bahang) in your mind, Danny? Do the state government have a budget to provide free bus transport for the schools students to go for their training at the Dam? MOST rich kids and I guess maybe about 95% of them would not take up Dragon boat but would pass their time with friends at Starbuck or internet cafes or… Read more »


The potential scenarios of motorcycle accident travellilng to Telok Bahang is very real and should be avoided. Make group buses available instead.


Not all rich kids waste their time in Starbucks.

Not all poor kids go row dragon boats.

Teluk Bahang is far, yes, the winding road is dangerous, true, but “bus service” is a little bit too much.

You want to pamper our kids like our government pampers (certain) privileged people?

For crying out loud, our kids are already pampered enough.

They don’t need to walk 10 miles in 3 feet of snow to school, and back … oh wai… wrong country. 🙂

But anyway, you get the drift.


There’s nothing prestigious, wasteful or pampering about arranged bus transport for group outings. It is more economic and fuel efficient for groups too.

If you have recently driven through Tanjung Bungah, Batu Feringgi, and Teluk Bahang, you will realize the tremendous increase in high-speed traffic in the last 10 years, from an explosion of population up to Batu Feringgi.

Rapid Penang buses perhaps can do the job if equipments can be stored on site. Let the team decide. If the traffic is too dangerous, as many parents will soon realize, there will just be a drop in participation.


To Gerakan K,

Don’t confuse the issue by dragging in the culture thing!,
I am only following your logic because of accident that ended with deaths, therefore dragon boat should be banned. Similarly, driving should be banned since more deaths occurred over the years, if going by your logic.

Gerakan K

Some said these dragon boat strongly related to the culture of the rich. By the way, firecracker also related to that culture as well. But why we agreed to the firecracker banning? Safety first and put all so called culture things behind. Another culture related thing include “kong ming” lantern. This lantern must also be banned effectively to avoid danger to aeroplane and high rise building. @looes74 Our National Service modules are too soft for any useful purpose. It should either be scrapped or enhanced it to become a full military service @Limko I know what are you thinking now.… Read more »

Anthony Tan

I read from The Star reported on 19 January: It’s only the dam now for Penang dragon boat races GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Pesta Open Dragon Boat Race 2009 will no longer be held at the Bandar Sri Pinang fisherman’s jetty off the Jelutong Expressway. Penang Tourism Development and Culture Committee chairman Danny Law said the decision was made after complaints that there were no proper demarcations during the race last December. “There were complaints about the alignment and the lack of demarcation last December. Because of that, we decided then that the race would no longer be held there,”… Read more »


There are, as usual, a lot of key ingredients missing from Danny Law’s statement. Those of us who read the Chinese newspapers have read about those “missing items” which, in one way or another, force the dragon boat teams to use other areas, such as the one in the McCallum site, as training sites. Danny Law is still doing everything he can to deny everything. I am not saying that he is the main reason for the tragedy, but without Danny Law’s *maneuvers*, many dragon boat team wouldn’t have to go to dangerous waters, such as the one at McCallum,… Read more »


Iron, I think we should stop finger pointing as it’s not helping anybody. As far as I am concerned, it’s an accidence. The state government has agreed to have an independent inquiry. However, inquiry’s objective is for betterment & improvement New World Hotel collapsed in Singapore in 1984. Since then, strict regulations have been imposed. Yet, it can’t prevent another accident that shocked Singapore. Nicoll Highway collapsed Iron, Ah so, stop construction! People do drop dead from playing badminton. So how, ban here ban there. We should uncover the truth, recommend solutions & improvement & move on with life Even… Read more »


Heart-rending eye-witness account. The Singaporean-Cambodian accident article is a worthy reference. The Penang investigation panel should invite some of those experts for advice. Many of the Cambodian factors seem to be present in our local accident. The life jacket issue is a conundrum. On the one hand, we suspect our local team has inadequate life jackets. On the other hand, the Singaporean team was provided with unsuitable life jacket too bulky for competition, so they opted not to wear them. Furthermore, our eye witness blogger heard that one of the life jackets might have been caught under the tug boat.… Read more »


Oh come on. All sports have some element of danger it them, even badminton. If we start banning sports that seem dangerous, we might as well ban all sports. Participants need to be trained on self rescue and survival techniques in case of emergencies. In the case of water sports they must be trained in sea survival techniques similar that used to train sea-farers and offshore going personnels in the oil and gas industry.


You are right about badminton! Several ministers dropped dead while playing badminton….

Anthony Tan

Hello people What had happen in this unfortunate tragedy was more towards human error from the beginning, when the basic elements are not taken care thus it leads to one thing to another, a chain reactions. Questions keep on popping up, like why this, why that and finger pointing starts just to avoid being held responsible by certain parties. I am surprise after all these years, Penang being one of the early pioneers in introducing Dragon Boat in this region have not move with time, that is why we did not made impact to in the international federation. Penang Dragon… Read more »


HI Anil, This is the first time I am writing to a blog.I would like to share some of my experiences to create awareness in order that we don”t have to see another unnecessary tragedy again.I am very active in my younger days and water sports is one of my favorites. You will notice that there is aways a trend of major drowings every 8 to 10 years either in the sea, river or waterfall. Parents whose children are now in the lower primary school needs to take note and impress upon them on what I am going to share.These… Read more »


Thanks Jon, this is a very good write up. The Penang water sport center, an alternative dragon boat training site, does have a lot of jelly fish and I have seen people stung there. Pulau Tioman recently had a flash flood tragedy involving Singaporean tourists. Flash flood tragedies occur every year.


i was devastated…

When i looked at their young bright faces, i was hurt…
and i asked God why…

My only comfort is they are in paradise now, a better place…

Patrick Ling

Dragon boat race is proving to be quite a dangerous sport. I remember in 2007, it claimed the lives of six young Singaporeans when their boat capsized during the Cambodian Water festival. All who drowned were experienced and good swimmers.


Anything can be dangerous. Even me nearly got drowned in Sentosa. Yes, that beach is reclaimed. We just need to take precautionary steps to prevent accidents from happening


To Gerakan K, Can we also consider banning driving since so many road accident happened and so many lives were lost over the years?


Perhaps, you can ask Najib to ban National Service.
By the way, I have nothing against National Service. In fact, since Najib insist in having 30% quota. Ask your Gerakan master to push UMNO overlord to introduce conscription
Have a quota of 40% non malays in the armed forces. 40% non malays in the top military leadership
Can you do it?

Gerakan K

Shall we ban this dangerous activities?


Just like the illegal Chief Minister of Perak who suggested that night travels by buses be banned because the driver fell asleep while driving? Do you think that is correct? Do you not think the above tragedy could be avoided if those concerned had listen to the experience? Is there a necessity to change the venue of the race? Any way, let us together learn from this sad episode that the loss of lives could have been prevented had better preparations and care been given to its preparations. Our deepest condolences to the families of the grieving. We share your… Read more »

Gerakan K

repetitive parrot,

That MB is legal one because the court confirmed it. To question court decision = contempt of court and it is punishable under the LAW. I think this blog owner should censor this repetitive parrot comment.


Which MB are you referring to? …

Hey! Latest news from Perak, Malays in the kampungs are coming out by the tens of thousands to support DSAI. I think the illegal CM is scared stiff, what say you Gerakan K?