7 crew arrested in deadly Hong Kong boat collision

By Kelvin Chan

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 2 2012 7:18 a.m. MDT

A damaged ferry is docked at a pier after a collision in Lamma Island, off the southwestern coast of Hong Kong Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012. The ferry on Monday collided with a boat owned by utility company Power Assets Holdings Ltd., which was taking its workers and their families to famed Victoria Harbor to watch a fireworks display in celebration of China's National Day and mid-autumn festival, killing at least 36 people.

Kin Cheung, Associated Press

HONG KONG — Hong Kong police on Tuesday arrested seven crew members from two boats in a collision that killed 38 holiday revelers, but they offered no theory about how the vessels ran into each other on a clear night in one of the safest and most regulated waterways in Asia.

The Monday night crash was Hong Kong's deadliest accident in more than 15 years, and the worst maritime accident in more than 40. Some relatives of the dead went to the scene off Hong Kong island's southwest coast to toss spirit money in honor of the victims Tuesday, while other people waited at the morgue for tragic news about loved ones.

Police Commissioner Tsang Wai-hung said six people were detained on suspicion of endangering passengers by operating the craft unsafely. "We expect further persons to be arrested," Police Commissioner Tsang Wai-hung said. Police announced a seventh arrest after his comments.

Tsang said police suspect both crews had not "exercised the care required of them by law," but he did not elaborate.

A ferry collided with the Lamma IV, which is owned by the Hong Kong Electric Co. utility and was taking more than 100 employees and their families to famed Victoria Harbor to watch a fireworks display in celebration of China's National Day and mid-autumn festival.

The government said in a statement that 101 people were sent to hospitals; 66 were discharged, and four had serious injuries or were in critical condition.

The ferry was damaged but completed its journey, and some of its passengers were treated for injuries. Local TV later showed images of the ferry, with its bow chewed up and chunks missing.

Hong Kong and Kowloon (Ferry) Holdings Ltd., the ferry operator, did not return calls seeking comment.

The government said 28 bodies were recovered overnight, and eight more victims were declared dead at hospitals. Two bodies found aboard the vessel Tuesday raised the death toll to 38, according to government statements. At least four of those killed were children.

Salvage crews raised the half-submerged Lamma IV using three crane barges that surrounded it Tuesday.

At the same time, several dozen relatives of victims traveled by boat to take part in a traditional Chinese mourning ritual, praying alongside Taoist priests and tossing spirit money into the wind.

As mourners wept and leaned out their boat's windows, other observers could see rescue workers bring what appeared to be a dead body out of the water and put it on the deck of a fire department rescue boat, where it was covered with a sheet or bag.

Police didn't know the exact number of people aboard the boat at the time of the accident and were interviewing survivors to determine if others were missing.

Survivors told local television stations that the power company boat started sinking rapidly after the 8:23 p.m. collision. One woman said she swallowed a lot of water as she swam back to shore. A man said he had been on board with his children and didn't know where they were. Neither gave their names.

Though there was no immediate word about how the collision occurred on Hong Kong's tightly regulated waterways, it appeared human error was involved. Both vessels should have been illuminated by running lights when they crashed near Lamma island off the southwestern coast of Hong Kong island.

Such large-scale accidents are rare for Hong Kong, a semiautonomous enclave off mainland China that has one of Asia's most advanced infrastructures and economies with first-rate public services. The accident is the deadliest to strike the territory since a 1996 high-rise fire that killed 41, and the deadliest ferry accident since 88 people died during a typhoon in 1971.

Power Assets' director of operations, Yuen Sui-see, said the Lamma IV was carrying 121 passengers and three crew members, well below its capacity of more than 200.

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