Controls urged on high-speed dinghies

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 April, 2006, 12:00am

Residents plan petition, but one operator says some are exploiting a diver's death to spread misinformation

Residents in an exclusive bay where a diver died after being struck by a passing vessel plan to raise a petition calling for speed limits and restrictions on the use of Zapcat high-speed dinghies.

They fear another tragedy if limits are not imposed on the use of the fashionable dinghies and other vessels in Lung Ha Wan, near Sai Kung, which have boomed in popularity among water sports fans in the past two years.

However, one Zapcat operator insisted the death of Bjorn Lohse was a tragic accident and accused some residents of using the tragedy to pursue a campaign against the dinghies, which can reach speeds up to 95km/h.

Lohse, 51, an experienced diver, died near his luxury yacht, Solitaire, in Lung Ha Wan on April 8. He was believed to have been struck by a Zapcat or other vessel when he surfaced from a dive, despite having put a marked buoy on the water.

No one witnessed the fatal collision but police have interviewed Zapcat users and others present on the day he was recovered from the seabed with head injuries. On the afternoon of his death, about a dozen of the dinghies were on the water, along with other vessels.

Restaurant owner Lohse, who leaves behind wife Barbara and 13-year-old adopted son Felix, was friends with many water sports fans for whom the Solitaire was a popular spot to meet for a drink and a chat. It was moored 500 metres out to sea on the day of his death.

Now a group of residents plan to hold a meeting on Saturday at which a petition is expected to be drawn up calling for controls on Zapcats and other water sports vessels in the bay where Lohse died.

One resident said that after the Sunday Morning Post reported on the investigation into Lohse's death last weekend, 'some of the Zapcat drivers have adapted their behaviour and slowed down'.

But the resident added: 'There are still some Zapcat owners who seem not willing to adjust their behaviour and are racing around ... very close to the shore. Even after dark, Zapcats race into the bay without proper lights.'

A Zapcat dealer and operator, who asked not to be named, said: 'Bjorn was one of my best friends. We dived, boated and spent a lot of time together.

'Sadly, there are a few out there who are exploiting Bjorn's tragic death to spread misinformation. Water sports are perfectly legal here, as in many other parts of Hong Kong, and are much enjoyed by most families in our community. Indeed, they are a major reason for living here. Local water sports are a completely separate issue from Bjorn's death and the two should not be confused so cynically.

'Bjorn was diving alone ... We also have to think of the driver of the alleged boat who could not have known there was a diver in his path.'

A police spokeswoman said: 'Police have interviewed some witnesses, more will be interviewed ... It will take time, maybe weeks.'

A yacht pictured on Page 3 of last Sunday's paper was incorrectly identified as the one belonging to Bjorn Lohse.