Crew Held After Ferry Disaster

The ferry collision leaves dozens dead in one of the worst accidents in Hong Kong's history.
2012-10-02
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The Lamma IV sinks after the it crashed with a passenger ferry in Hong Kong harbor on Oct. 2, 2012.
AFP Photo

Authorities in Hong Kong are holding seven ferry crew and have pledged a full inquiry after 38 people died in a collision between two passenger vessels in the territory's crowded harbor.

The accident is one of the worst in Hong Kong's history, and came after the Lamma IV, a small ferry belonging to the Hong Kong Electric Co., collided with a regular passenger ferry taking tourists and residents to Lamma Island, one of the territory's many outlying islands.

Five children were among the dead, who were apparently trapped inside the vessel after it sank within minutes following the collision.

The public passenger ferry, the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry (HKKF) service's Sea Smooth, was also slightly damaged during the collision, but returned to the island with its full complement of passengers.

Top Hong Kong policeman Lai Tung-kwok said crew members from both vessels have been arrested.

A spokesman for Hong Kong Electric said the Lamma IV was carrying 124 passengers and crew to watch a fireworks display in the city's famous Victoria Harbor in honor of China's National Day, which is a public holiday in Hong Kong.

He said the vessel had adequate life-saving equipment, and had a maximum capacity of 200 people.

The company said in a statement it was "deeply saddened" by the accident, and that it would spare no efforts to assist in the government investigation and provide assistance to its employees and their families.

'Trapped inside'

Survivors aboard the Lamma IV told local media that water levels inside the Lamma IV rose quickly before the boat sank with its bow sticking out of the water, just off Lamma Island's northernmost point.

"We thought we were going to die," one woman told government broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK). "Everyone was trapped inside," she said.

Another survivor told the South China Morning Post: "After 10 minutes out a boat crashed into ours from the side at very high speed. The rear... started to sink. I suddenly found myself deep under the sea."

"I swam hard and tried to grab a life buoy," added the man. "I don't know where my two kids are."

'It could have been us'

A user identified as "Caomin" wrote an account of the crash on the My Lamma online forums, as seen from the HKKF Ferry.

"The ferry crashed directly into something (apparently the [smaller ferry]) and threw people forward in the cabin. About five minutes after the crash, the ferry began to take on water near the front of the cabin on the first floor. People began to be very frightened at that point," the user wrote.

"Luckily for us on the ferry, the crash seems to have occurred close to the pier, and the ferry made it to the pier, where all of the passengers disembarked, apparently with only minor injuries."

A second user, also apparently an eyewitness, wrote: "It could have been us on the HKKF ferry ... The only thing that prevented it from happening was that we were a sturdier boat."

Criticism

Local media reports criticized the HKKF ferry captain for failing to stay to pick up survivors from the smaller vessel. But "Caomin" said that the ferry was already in danger.

"I think the ferry crew made the right decision to try to make it to the Lamma ferry pier. The boat was taking on water quickly and, for all we knew, might have begun to sink, and therefore it was in no position to conduct a rescue operation," he wrote.

"In fact, doing so might have endangered even more lives."

Reported by RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin services. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.