Hijack, what hijack?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 June, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 June, 1995, 12:00am

THEY say ignorance is bliss. I cannot help thinking that - had I been on the hijacked jetfoil 'Guia' on Tuesday - I would have been in a state of total ignorance, but certainly not bliss. That is not a state you achieve on a jetfoil. My rather limited expectations of jetfoil travel explain my attitude.

Not understanding Cantonese very well, I would have missed out on crucial little words like 'bomb' and 'kill'. As a result, I would have sat through the hijack quite unable to differentiate it from an ordinary run.

I would have followed my normal custom of browsing through the newspaper, dozing off and waking up in irritation at the fact that we still weren't there yet.

I think my only intimation that all had not gone as normal would have been when we arrived back at Macau - where we started.

Even then I could have recalled the time last week when I turned a taxi round and went back to where I had come from because of total traffic constipation on Gloucester Road. Perhaps the jetfoil captain could have come to the same decision over the marine congestion in what is left of Hong Kong's harbour.

I would have been amazingly unhelpful to the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau officers waiting keenly to interview me.

After all, what would there have been about the hijack goings-on to alert a dumb foreigner? You have to understand that once a six foot, 250 lb gweilo has squeezed himself into a jetfoil seat and inserted his knees neatly up his nostrils, there is already a strong sense of captivity. It would never occur to him that this would need to be further enforced from the aisle.

I am told two slimmer men suddenly jumped from their seats and started shouting at people. So what? On jetfoils people are always jumping up and shouting at people. It is a local form of on-board socialising.

The last time I was on a jetfoil a man jumped up and hollered at the row behind him. A Chinese companion told me he was telling his mates he had just lost $175,000 at the casino. A good enough reason to shout, I'd have thought.

I am told one robber walked down the aisle with a gun. Had I noticed it, it would have sparked no curiosity in my mind. This could have been an interesting refinement to the 'threat school' of hard-sell which the cabin staff use when pushing the refreshment trolley. Invariably one of them looks not-so-much like a jolly Jack Tar, but a retired bouncer.

'You eat sawdust cookie or sugary thing in plastic bag. Drink eh? No gasi bak. Only San lik.' What is a man with a gun compared to the promise of that? At one point everybody did put their hands on their heads. I might have thought that was an indication that someone had got lucky scraping one of those lottery tickets you can buy before you enter the moral purity of Hong Kong waters. Mind you, given the cautiousness of gambling operators, it would have been unlikely that everybody had won. Perhaps this was a communal class in sedentary tai-chi being led in Portuguese over the tannoy.

I would have joined in for a little while for fear of looking snooty and aloof and, purely by accident, would have avoided having my brains blown out.

It is unlikely I would have understood the gunshots. I would have put them down to an irate passenger banging a Lucozade bottle with a tight cap against the bulkhead.

Or it could have been a desperate passenger banging on the lavatory door. That old woman who spends the entire journey inside the lavatory would have been the only one, apart from me, to miss the drama.

The bridge crew surrendered after three rounds were pumped into the locked bridge door. They could have emptied a Kalashnikov clip into the lavatory door and that old crone would still not have moved.

They say there was not actually a bomb on board as threatened. If one of the three robbers had been lured into the loo, he would have found clear evidence of prolonged detonations.

Had I noticed the bridge crew laid flat out in the bow section of the cabin, I would have nodded my head in quiet sympathy. Much the same happened to me while the vessel was still tied up alongside at the Hong Kong pier.

Every seventh wave coming through the dock was near tidal. One caught me getting to my seat. I fell, rolling over and over across the legs of two understandably excited women and lodged myself between two rows. This was, be assured, before lunch.

The disappearance of the entire cabin crew would have caused me no alarm. After the distribution of the lottery tickets, disappear is exactly what they normally do.

That must be why we never get landing cards for Hong Kong anymore.

I would have been in snooze mode during much of the hijack journey to China's Qi'ao Island and no amount of stopping, starting and bottoming would have stirred me. Had I woken, not recognising where I was, this would have been unremarkable. I can rarely tell Cheung Chau from Hei Ling Chau - and when the driver decides to go to Macau via Castle Peak round the north of Lantau, I regularly resign myself to having got on the Tuen Mun ferry by mistake.

There was only one reported moment during the hijack which might have caused me some alarm. After the gunshots on the bridge all the passengers are said to have fallen into silence. Only breathing could be heard. Total silence on Hong Kong public transport is an ominous portent that should certainly put the wind up anybody.

The jetfoil hijack was inventive. Opportunities to extend this kind of thinking over the wider sphere of public transport are few. There are short, green cash-collecting trains which run along the MTR from time to time. But MTR trains are difficult to divert to China. The alternative of abandoning one and carting $10 million in small change through the tunnel - with trains coming at intervals of three minutes - has limited appeal.

Even on rip-off grave sweeping and race days, the amount of money public light buses carry make them hardly worth the effort and the passengers are unlikely to be bursting with jewellery, either. There is an added disadvantage. As well as the police, the PLB's triad operator will be after you too.

Of all buses, I would suggest the Aberdeen tunnel route to Stanley as long as you are prepared to pillage the passengers. Potential hijackers may suffer some confusion when they first get on board. The bus will be being driven as though it has already been hijacked.

It looks as though Mr Stanley Ho's jetfoils will be the hot favourite for some time to come. But he can take some comfort.

Like traditional Hong Kong workers who toil fifty one weeks of the year and blow their savings on gambling at Chinese New Year, as soon as gangsters have pulled off a heist they blow the proceeds at the casino at his Macau hotel, the Lisboa.

Whatever strange routes the money will follow, most of it, eventually, will end its journey with Mr Ho.