Hong Kong is known for bustling, well-managed port traffic. Yet the deadliest marine accident there in more than 40 years is being investigated for what could be a series of errors by captain and crew and it is expected to take months to unravel what happened at 8:30 p.m. Monday.
According to news reports, the high-speed ferry Smooth Sea crashed into a smaller ferry owned by Hong Kong Electric that was taking 124 of its workers and their families to watch fireworks to celebrate China’s National Day and mid-autumn festival.
Thirty-eight people died, all aboard the smaller boat Lamma IV, which was struck by the high-speed ferry. A 9-year-old girl was clinging to life Wednesday, according to a report by China Daily.
The collision left a 10-foot hole in the aft section of Lamma IV, flooding the engine room and causing the boat to quickly sink stern-first.
Click here for a news report with images of the wreckage.
“After 10 minutes out, a boat crashed into ours from the side at very high speed. The rear of the ferry started to sink,” one survivor told the South China Morning Post. “I suddenly found myself deep under the sea. I swam hard and tried to grab a life buoy. I don’t know where my two kids are.”
The captain of the high-speed ferry is facing a firestorm of criticism over his performance and that of his crew. Reports suggest that the ferry continued to its dock without rendering assistance.
“I was on the ferry that departed Central at 8 p.m.,” a passenger on Smooth Sea wrote on the local online forum Lamma.com.hk. “The ferry crashed directly into something 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. We put on life vests and went toward the back of the ferry. During this whole time we received no information or instructions from any of the HKFF crew. I think this probably made people even more frightened. 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.”
The general manager of HKFF, the company that owns Smooth Sea, told local media that his captain did not follow international maritime law to exchange collision details with his counterpart on Lamma IV, according to another report, by the South China Morning Post.
In a report by the Morning Post, a specialist in vessel design and maintenance at the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers was interviewed and said the captains of both ferries may have averted a head-on crash and an even bigger disaster by altering course.
The director of China’s Marine Department said the probe may take six months and that boating safety guidelines could be altered afterward.
One Briton has been identified among the dead and a Daily Mail report on the crash includes an extensive series of photos from the scene.