Vessels sail on through adversity

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 August, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 August, 1997, 12:00am

Over the past century, the Star Ferry has survived two world wars, typhoons, a riot, a strike and competition from the MTR and harbour tunnels.

The service traces its roots to 1888 when a Parsi businessman, Dorabjee Nowrojee, began charging passengers to ride the boats he used to carry his workers to and fro.

Nowrojee sold his four vessels, all bearing the name 'Star', to the Hong Kong and Kowloon Wharf Godown Company in 1898 and the Star Ferry Company was born.

The first boats were single deckers that sported a canvas canopy and were propelled by a coal-fired boiler.

Passengers paid five cents to cross the harbour, which was then about two kilometres wide. Thanks to reclamation the journey from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui has shrunk to 1.5 km while the upper-deck fare has increased to $2.20.

The first crisis was in September 1906 when one of Hong Kong's worst typhoons destroyed two ferries and the Kowloon pier.

With the Japanese invasion in December 1941 the British took control of the fleet to evacuate troops and civilians from the Kowloon peninsula.

The service hit the headlines again in 1966 when proposals to increase the 20-cent fare by five cents set off a major riot.

Pro-communist ferrymen later shut down the operation in protest at police removing the Maoist posters they had stuck up on their boats.

There has only been one major collision. In 1937 the Meridian Star rammed the Night Star amidships. It managed to limp home and disgorge its passengers before sinking.