2,000 hooked by a classic mermaid tale

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 October, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 October, 1993, 12:00am

IT was a classic fisherman's tale - a mermaid had been hauled aboard a local boat - and thousands of people fell for it hook, line and sinker, swarming to the Aberdeen waterfront last night to wait for the boat to dock.

But it soon seemed to be another case of ''the one that got away'' as by 11 pm the fishing boat skippered by a Mr To had still not pulled into the jetty opposite the Aberdeen fish market.

Police were called in to control the crowd and at one stage were forced to remove people from a pier in front of the nearby fire station.

It was the third time in the past month that rumours of a mythical creature being caught had sent a buzz of excitement through Hong Kong's superstitious fishing community.

The latest case began when Mr To radioed a friend to say he had caught something strange in the South China Sea near Hainan Island.

According to fishermen at Aberdeen last night, Mr To said he had pulled up a creature that had long human-like hair, a pointed beak-like face but no limbs.

Mr To and his crew were expected to sail into Hong Kong harbour at 3 pm. The crowd began to gather on the wharf and along the shores.

But there was an unexplained delay and his estimated time of arrival was put back to 6 pm. A few went home, but more came and took up vantage points. By 7 pm the crowd had swelled to about 2,000.

Every time a fishing boat appeared at the entrance of the harbour gasps of anticipation and cries of ''here she comes'' and ''this is it'' echoed around the waterfront.

Late last night there was still no word from the To vessel and all but a few diehards in the crowd dispersed - none the wiser about the existence of mermaids.

''He may have decided to take refuge at an island cove after typhoon signal No 1 was hoisted just before 7 pm,'' said one fisherman.

''Or otherwise, he may have heard about all the people on the wharf waiting to see his catch and decided not to come in.

''During Typhoon Dot there were two reports of mermaids being caught - but apparently they were released back to sea before the boats came in.

''I'm sure Mr To will also release his mermaid,'' the fisherman said.

''I know it is unlikely a mermaid was caught, and I don't believe they really exist, but I wanted to be here just in case,'' said Karen Li Tze-kong.

''I would hate to miss it,'' said Ms Li who heard about the mermaid from her brother, who heard about it from friends, who were told by fishermen at the markets.

''Even if it is a mermaid, I doubt it will look like Darryl Hannah,'' said one teenage onlooker, referring to the star of the mermaid movie Splash.

A more realistic spectator said he thought the fishermen may have caught a dugong, a dolphin or a seal . . . but definitely not a mermaid.

''I certainly don't believe in mermaids but I'd rather be here than at home watching television; I mean anything is possible, isn't it?'' Dugongs are large, sluggish and inoffensive marine mammals often found in Asian waters. They range in length from 2.2 metres to 3.4 metres and have a round, tapered body that ends in a flipper with paired, pointed horizontal branches.

And, as everyone waited to see just what Mr To had caught, quick-thinking Hong Kongers in small boats floated up and down Aberdeen harbour, selling tasty morsels of roast pork and cup noodles to the hungry hordes that lined the shore.