Row over lifeguards' plan to swim the harbour

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 July, 2005, 12:00am

There was confusion yesterday about whether 500 striking lifeguards would be allowed to swim across Victoria Harbour in protest against the outsourcing of the management of water sports centres and swimming pools.

A Marine Department spokesman said the swim would not be permitted under shipping and port control regulations.

But the Hong Kong and Kowloon Life Guards' Union, which plans to mount a strike by about 1000 lifeguards next Sunday, said the department had already started helping them make arrangements for the swim. The 1,000 strikers - 60 per cent of the government's lifeguards - will gather at the Cultural Centre at 10am.

Present plans are for about 500 lifeguards to dive into the harbour at 1pm and swim from Tsim Sha Tsui to Wan Chai while the rest stage the protest in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The Marine Department spokesman said no permit would be issued for the swim. 'The protest would affect sea traffic and the water quality of Victoria Harbour is not suitable for swimming.' He added that offenders faced a maximum fine of $2,000 per person.

But union vice-chairman Alex Kwok Siu-kit said representatives from the Marine Department told them yesterday that they would make arrangements for the protest.

'The officers told us they did not encourage us to do it. But they asked us to cut down the number of swimmers from 800 to 500, and they also mentioned deploying some boats or canoes to escort us for safety reasons,' he said. 'If the department won't permit the swim, then why do they bother to work out details with us?'

A police spokeswoman said the protest application was now being processed.

Mr Kwok said the action was aimed at telling the government that 'public safety will be in danger if it continues to contract out works at swimming pools and beaches'.

'I would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused to members of the public and we appeal to them all not to swim on July 31, as our lifeguards will go on strike to fight for better lifesaving service quality,' he said.

The Leisure and Cultural Service Department urged lifeguards to carry out their duties and said it would try to maintain services. But it might have to shut some pools or beaches if manpower was short.

The department insisted the quality of service would not be affected by outsourcing.

About 75 per cent of the public swimming pools were closed during a similar protest last August.