Members of Ya Sa Ka, the country’s private vessel supervisory committee, have responded to allegations of negligence in the wake of the Aung Soe Moe Kyaw 2 ferry sinking, saying they had made complaints about overloaded vessels in the past but that their authority is constrained.

In the aftermath of the deadly accident, which so far has claimed more than 70 lives, a survivor alleged that Ya Sa Ka – the supervisory body’s Myanmar-language acronym – was informed that the Aung Soe Moe Kyaw 2 was overloaded when it arrived at the Phaung Pyin boarding gate. Reportedly, despite pleas to act, representatives of the supervisory authority said the vessel’s passenger load was not their concern.

Since the October 15 disaster, there has been widespread criticism and condemnation of Ya Sa Ka across social media, with calls made for serious action to be taken against responsible officials. Ya Sa Ka representatives only this week offered comment on the sinking.

“Ya Sa Ka members have been strongly criticised following the sinking of the Aung Soe Moe Kyaw ferry but we are only allowed to take action against vessels which are overloaded through the Inland Water Transport department or the regional government … We accept that some Ya Sa Ka members are responsible for the accident but people should consider what authority we actually have,” said one official from Ya Sa Ka in Homalin.

In 2012, the Sagaing Region government enacted the Systematic Running of Private Vessels Law. According to the legislation, Ya Sa Ka was formed under the authority of the Inland Water Transport department and was charged with the inspection of vessels at waterway gates along the Chindwin River.

Under the law, many potential actions of Ya Sa Ka require approval from the regional government via the Inland Water Transport department.

“I accept that there are some people within Ya Sa Ka who may be responsible for the accident but we are unable to act if we do not have the proper authority. In order to take action against an overloaded vessel, we need to ask permission from higher-level officials and wait for the response. In some cases it takes a very long time to get an answer so we have no choice but to let overloaded ferries go,” said another Ya Sa Ka official from Kalaywa.

“Almost all vessels on the Chindwin River are overloaded. Widespread reform across all responsible organisations is needed if this is to change,” he added.

Members of Ya Sa Ka told The Myanmar Times that they had lodged numerous complaints with the Inland Water Transport department in the past about vessel operators violating the law on the Chindwin River, to little avail.

“We complained many times about the vessels violating the law to the appropriate authorities but no effective action was taken so we stopped complaining,” said U Thaung Nyunt, head of Ya Sa Ka in Monywa.

Sagaing Region Chief Minister U Myint Naing told survivors of the disaster that if need be, Ya Sa Ka would be completely abolished or reformed.

Regional Minister for Electricity, Industry and Transport U Than Nyunt Win has said Ya Nya Na, the Myanmar-language acronym for the Department of Marine Administration, also shares some blame for the accident.

The Aung Soe Moe Kyaw 2 was travelling between Homalin and Monywa townships when it is thought to have capsized after striking a rock in the Chindwin River near Mee Chaung Dwing village, in Kani township.

More than 200 people were estimated to have been onboard, well above the 36 passengers the vessel was licensed to carry. A total of 159 were rescued, with at least 73 dead and seven people still missing.

The regional government has previously stated that all those with a share of culpability for the disaster, including public officials, would be called to account.