Boat party ends with dockworker lost in Yangon River

Passenger boats on the Yangon River. Photo: Jacob Goldberg

A group of about 10 men and a few children sit silently on the bank of the Yangon River, watching small wooden boats and big metal ferries float by on the murky expanse. They are waiting to see if the boats they’ve hired will pull something from the water that will help answer a question that has been torturing them for over a week: “What happened to Mayanthee?”

Mayanthee, as he is known to those close to him, has been lost since July 1, when he fell from a boat that was the venue for a party called Tranceportation 2, which promised “entertaining activities” and “ecstatic dance.”

But while most of the party’s dozens of attendees learned about it through Facebook and came with their friends, the dockworker, reportedly in his 30s, just happened to be near the entrance to the boat when the party began.

Mayanthee, who some of the dockworkers referred to as Kalar Kalay, meaning “Little Indian”, reportedly boarded the ferry at Kaing Dan Jetty at the invitation of several partygoers who saw him drinking nearby.

Kaing Dan Jetty
The entrance to Kaing Dan Jetty. Photo: Jacob Goldberg

“He was one of those dockworkers who hangs out and drinks until they need more money, and then they get up to carry something,” said police officer Aye Kyaw Thu, who is stationed at the docks and received the report of Mayanthee’s disappearance later that day.

The organizers of the party tried to prevent Mayanthee from boarding since he didn’t have a ticket, but they relented when the other guests insisted he be allowed to join the party.

Police officer Aye Kyaw Thu told Coconuts the police have a video of Mayanthee dancing at the party. A number of people who attended the party – each of whom would speak only on condition of anonymity – said they saw Mayanthee lose his balance more than once on the dance floor.

“He was extremely drunk. [But] people wanted him to stay and have a good time,” one witness said. Another witness said partygoers continued to give him alcohol on the boat.

About an hour after the boat left the dock, word began to spread that the dockworker had fallen off the boat and into the river. Few people saw him fall, but one witness said he toppled over the railing at the back end of the ferry while he was resting against it.

“The railing was about a meter high,” another guest said. “People around him were trying to keep an eye on him, but two guys turned away, and one girl was left next to him when he fell, and she said she couldn’t stop him.”

Witnesses say it was too dark to see anything in the river, and the boat continued moving away from the spot where Mayanthee fell for several minutes before the crew took action. No one has seen him since.

“What I saw was a lot of people looking over the side of the boat. There was no response from staff in terms of immediately throwing life jackets, which were easily accessible,” one witness said.

In fact, the event description for Tranceportation 2 says: “Safety first. Safety jackets will also be provided on board.”

After what witnesses say was between 10 and 15 minutes from the time Mayanthee fell, the boat turned around and went back to the spot where he was believed to have fallen. One witness said they searched the water for five minutes before returning to the dock, while the music continued to play.

A spot near where Mayanthee’s family continues to search for their lost relative. Photo: Jacob Goldberg

Zarni Kyaw, the founder of Banana Events, which organized the party, quickly reported what had happened to the police. The police searched the river for Mayanthee for the next two days, then called it off. No case has been opened, police said, because no body has been found.

Having just witnessed what was, in all likelihood, a preventable loss of life, the DJs packed up their equipment, and the partygoers quickly dispersed.

The next morning, instead of finding answers about the fate of the man who was abandoned in the river, the people who attended Tranceportation 2 awoke to a statement from the organizer that left many cold:

“Thanks everyone for an amazing Tranceportation 2! We hope you had an awesome time. You are probably aware of that sad [event] that occurred during the evening. We are grieving and praying for the man involved, and his family are in our thoughts. We will be donating the event’s profits to the man’s family. However, as this was a low-cost event, our generosity is limited. For those of you who wish to contribute, we will be very grateful to pass on your donation to the family, in full.”

The statement continued: “PS. We are trying to [present] you with gift vouchers for another upcoming event.”

As one commenter put it, the statement was “underwhelming.” The statement has since been deleted by Banana Events and replaced with a new one, which claims that the organizers did everything they could to save “the man” and that they are cooperating with the police investigation.

However, police say there will be no investigation until a body turns up. And even then, Mayanthee’s death will be classified as an accident unless he is found to have suffered external injuries, which neither police nor witnesses anticipate.

The young dock worker’s relatives, too, are waiting until they discover their loved one’s fate before laying blame. They even refused Banana Events’ donation, saying they will take no action until they find Mayanthee, dead or alive.

They said that while the search is getting more and more difficult, they have not yet given up hope.

Staring out into the river while business goes on as usual and the likelihood of finding Mayanthee alive dissipates, one relative insisted they had no intention of giving up the search.

“We have already searched from Yangon to Thilawa, and we will search until we reach the sea.”

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