Mariners' Club to make way for high-rise

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 August, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 August, 2002, 12:00am

The Mariners' Club in Tsim Sha Tsui is to be demolished to make way for a residential high-rise because there are too few sailors to make the club's facilities viable.

Plans have been drawn up to pull down the distinctive 35-year-old, 12-storey, building in Middle Road and construct a block of high-rise flats that will generate a stable income for the club.

The club had deficits of $8 million in 2000 and $9 million last year because of low-occupancy rates in its 90 guest rooms and hefty costs incurred in upgrading old fire-safety features.

When it opened in the 1960s, the club building was crowded with sailors from Hong Kong and overseas.

As well as guest rooms, the club has a comfortable bar and restaurant.

But as the shipping industry changed and vessels began to dock in Hong Kong for a short time - sometimes just a few hours - the number of sailors dropped drastically and fewer guest rooms were occupied.

According to the Marine Department, the number of Hong Kong sailors working on long-haul vessels has declined from 60,000 30 years ago to just 518 today.

The drop in the number of local sailors is partly due to the transformation of Hong Kong's economy, with young people more inclined to aspire to office jobs than a life on the ocean waves.

Percy Weatherall, the managing director of Jardine Matheson and chairman of the general committee of the Sailors' Home and Mission to Seafarers, which runs the club, said that after the redevelopment the mission would receive part of the flat-sale revenue.

The mission would have about 10,000 sq ft in floor space for its headquarters and other recreational and religious facilities.

There would no longer be hostel rooms but accommodation for visiting sailors would be arranged and funded if necessary, Mr Weatherall said.

British company Swire Properties has been selected from an open tender as a partner of the redevelopment. The land premium had yet to be discussed with the government, Mr Weatherall said.

A local sailor has objected to the Town Planning Board about the rezoning plan. He says it will result in reduced floor space for the mission and British companies would have too much of a colonial influence on the Mariners Club. He urged the general committee to include local seamen union representatives.

But Mr Weatherall said the mission's primary duty was to offer help to visiting sailors. 'Local seamen are covered by a network of welfare from the government and their unions,' he said. 'The truth is that there are virtually no Hong Kong people working as sailors nowadays.'