Sailor killed, two nieces critical after fireworks explode on boat

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2005, 12:00am

A sailor was killed and two of his nieces were critically injured when hundreds of kilos of fireworks caught fire and exploded on their cargo vessel off Western yesterday.

The fireworks were left over from the weekend's Symphony of Lights, the weekly light and sound show held in Victoria Harbour every Saturday by the Tourism Commission. About 200kg of fireworks were awaiting transfer to the mainland on the vessel, which was licensed to carry such goods.

Witness Rob Schlipper, who was on the 21st floor of the nearby Hong Kong Industrial Building, said: 'I heard a huge explosion at 9.20am and saw a big orange ball of fire come out of the 120-foot-long boat. Bits of fire were shooting out of the boat like fireworks.

'About 20 seconds later, one or two guys ran out of the cargo hold. One of them was limping. People were running around everywhere and running away.

'Then people started to run back to help put out the fire by throwing water into the hold. In five to 10 minutes, all the boats started to leave the dock,' the 40-year-old managing director said.

The boat was in the harbour in the Western Dangerous Goods Anchorage when the fire broke out in one of 20 cartons of fireworks. The crew tried to sail the vessel to the Western District Public Cargo Working Area for help after finding smoke coming from the hold.

Police said crew members tried to fight the blaze before the explosion and tried to call emergency services. 'They could not get through because there was no reception,' said Senior Inspector Mak Che-hung, from the Marine police's port district.

'So they tried to put out the fire themselves but failed. They kept calling while heading to the cargo handling area. When they were almost there the explosion occurred.'

Other ships in the area alerted police to the explosion and firemen rushed to the scene, putting out the blaze before 10am. They found the body of a 47-year-old man in the hold with severe leg injuries.

The man's nieces, aged 35 and 42, were taken to Queen Mary Hospital in critical condition with burns to more than 50 per cent of their bodies. The fourth relative on board, a 54-year-old brother of the dead man, was injured but discharged after treatment.

The police force's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau and forensic experts started investigating at the scene after the fire was put out. They found about 200kg of goods in the cargo hold, which they removed for investigation.

As well as the police, the Marine Department and the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority, which regulates the use of fireworks in the Symphony of Lights show, have launched their own inquiries. Fire Services said initial investigations found no suspicious circumstances.

The Tourism Board said last night it had cancelled this Saturday's Symphony of Lights.