Protests endanger lives, says Star Ferry

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 July, 1996, 12:00am

Star Ferry accused public cargo protesters yesterday of endangering the lives of passengers by slowing down and in some cases deliberately stopping their barges in front of its ferries between Tsim Sha Tsui, Central and Wan Chai.

Johnny Leung Tak-hing, the Star Ferry operations manager, denounced the protesters for being reckless and irresponsible.

'They caused massive disruption to our service. Some of their boats even stopped in front of our ferries while we were trying to cross the harbour,' he said.

Protesting against the Government's plans to introduce tendering of berths to the highest bidders at nine public cargo working areas, more than 150 barges and tugs sailed slowly across Victoria Harbour in both directions from Lei Yue Mun and Sheung Wan, from 8 am until after 3 pm.

The protest wreaked havoc in the harbour, creating waves and slowing down sea traffic on all sides.

Marine Police and the Marine Department had to deploy extra patrols to regulate harbour traffic. Several were used to guide cross-harbour ferries around protesting vessels forming a long line and coming almost to a standstill between 10 am and noon.

Ferry passenger Wong Pak-lam was angry he was late for work. 'This is not the way to get public sympathy,' he said.

Leung Hung, a protest organiser with the Public Cargo Working Areas Joint Committee, blamed the Marine Department for incompetent traffic control and accused officials of misleading the public about the berth rental system.

'If you introduce tenders, the highest bidders will win all the berths and small and medium-size cargo companies will be wiped out,' he said.

The Marine Department plans to introduce tenders by next month, and firms can bid by September for berths so the new system can come into effect by the end of this year. Under the present system, companies work on a first-come, first-served basis and pay a fixed daily rate.

But the system has been criticised for favouring some established companies, which occupy berths and then sublet for several times the public rate. It was hoped a tender system would redistribute berths more fairly.