23 Viets flee as guards blamed for earlier escape

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 July, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 July, 1995, 12:00am

TWENTY-THREE Vietnamese detainees broke out of Green Island reception centre yesterday, only hours before the release of an inquiry report blaming bad weather and staff negligence for a mass escape from High Island centre 10 days ago.

Security forces launched an air, sea and land search after the inmates escaped from Green Island and fled into Victoria Harbour.

The men, aged 24 to 40, used a metal bar to smash through the brick wall of their dormitory at about 4 am, sliced a wire fence and swam for nearby Western district shortly before dawn.

Correctional Services Department (CSD) officers spotted the last escapees and gave chase, seizing three on Green Island waterfront. Police captured one man in the water and seven others in Western.

CSD Assistant Commissioner (Vietnamese) Bonnie Wong Yuk-wan said six officers had been guarding the 208 inmates when the alarm was raised at 4.15 am.

Staffing was adequate for care-taking - but not for preventing escapes, she said.

Commissioner Raymond Lai Ming-kee has ordered an internal inquiry.

Twelve people were missing last night, bringing the total number of escapees from High Island and Green Island still at large to 22.

Acting Refugee Co-ordinator Gordon Leung Chung-tai said action would be taken against negligent CSD officers on duty at High Island early on July 16.

Night staff had sheltered indoors instead of keeping watch through the rain, according to the interim inquiry report.

'According to the board of inquiry, the reason was the bad weather, negligence on behalf of staff and then lax middle-management,' Mr Leung said.

The inquiry said staff were sheltering from 9.5 millimetres of 'heavy downpour' between 2 am and 3 am, when a small group of Vietnamese was thought to have cut wire fences. Ninety escaped.

But the Royal Observatory told the South China Morning Post it recorded only 'trace' rainfall between midnight and 3 am, and nil until 5 am.

Remaining inmates on Green Island would be transferred to another CSD centre, Mr Leung said.

A CSD spokesman said re-captured escapees insisted they had escaped because of terrible food served at Green Island. The centre had no cooks, so rice lunch boxes, dry rations and congee were brought over.

Ms Wong said the CSD was short-staffed at jails because more officers were being drafted to guard Hong Kong's 22,000 Vietnamese.

The interim report warned Vietnamese boat people were becoming more difficult and aggressive.

Officers accused of negligence and lax management would be disciplined after the report is completed next month.

Despite protests of staff shortage, overwork and stress from CSD officers, Mr Leung said the staffing situation was 'healthy'.