Former officer stirs with pride as fireboat rises from water

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 March, 2006, 12:00am

Whole city should be proud, he says of Alexander Grantham's 49 years of service

Hong Kong should be proud, said retired Fire Services Department senior divisional officer Sung Sau-man as he watched the fireboat Alexander Grantham lifted from the water and laid in its final resting place at Quarry Bay Park yesterday afternoon.

The locally built Alexander Grantham, which was decommissioned in 2002 after 49 years of service, will be remodelled into a museum and opened to the public next year.

Mr Sung said the design and quality of the fireboat made it ahead of its time when it was built in 1953.

The vessel had air conditioning - a rarity in those days - and its central tower could extend to 18 metres. 'That was very visionary because it foresaw that ships would get bigger and taller as the years went by,' he said.

Mr Sung, 70, said he was first posted to the Grantham in 1963 as an assistant station officer, and he described his relationship with the vessel as like husband and wife.

'Actually, I probably saw the ship more than my wife because if I was on duty then, I was on the boat around the clock. But when I was off-duty I didn't spend all my time with my wife.'

He recalled the rescue of the New Orient Princess in 1993 as the most memorable. 'I did not sleep for 48 hours that time,' he said. 'We had to evacuate about 420 passengers and fortunately no one was hurt.

'There were a lot of things you had to co-ordinate and be aware of during such a rescue. For example, if we had sprayed water onto the boat for two more minutes than we did, it would have sunk,' he said.

Mr Sung saved the working life of the boat in 1991, when it was almost decommissioned. 'The Grantham was then 38 years old and its speed had dropped from about 12 knots to fewer than eight.' But at Mr Sung's suggestion, the main engine was replaced, allowing it to remain in service until 2003.

Yesterday's lifting operation, which took 90 minutes and involved more than 100 workers, saw the 500-tonne boat rise slowly out of the water and be placed on metal struts by the shore of Victoria Harbour. Chan Shing-wai, a Leisure and Cultural Services Department chief curator, said precision and overall co-ordination were the most challenging aspects.

'It was the first time something like this has been done, and there was no chance for a rehearsal beforehand.'