A lifelong immersion in tugs, motorboats and the harbour

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 March, 2004, 12:00am

More than 40 years ago, Choi Kim-lui played with his brothers on Blake's Pier while his father and grandfather worked on the motorboats.

'I was very disappointed when Blake's Pier was demolished in the early 1990s as I used to swim by the pier in the 1960s,' he says.

Mr Choi, 55, chairman of the Cargo Vessel Traders Association, works in the administration of three midstream operation firms, and despite a few years working as a social worker, has never lost his love of boats and of the harbour.

'On Blake's Pier, we'd get on a wallah-wallah [little wooden boat] , and serve - well, not exactly serve - as crew, but as a boy I'd get to sit by the coxswain,' he recalls while poring over one of many photo albums on his desk in Sheung Wan. Over the years Mr Choi has recorded many of the motorboats and tugs used in Hong Kong waters.

Transward, New Moonraker Motorboat Company and Republic Motor Boat Company are three firms involved in midstream operations, transporting containers off and on ships using derricks, lighters, motorboats and tugs without the cargo vessels docking at a container port. As the container ships have grown larger, so too have the lighters.

Mr Choi, his four brothers and one sister, have all been involved in the midstream firms at one time. 'Midstream operations have always existed in Hong Kong. These days it's mostly containers but in the old days we did break-bulk, which the container ports don't handle.

He says his enthusiasm for carrying out midstream operations at the anchorages and government buoys is not shared by tycoons who he says see midstream operations as antiquated.

'Still, the midstream operations offer alternatives to the shippers and shipping companies, otherwise they would not use us. They're very pragmatic.'

Mr Choi and his brothers are the third generation of men in the family involved in maritime trade. However, his two sons, who work in engineering and design, are unlikely to follow in his footsteps.