Three feared drowned after sampan sinks off Sokos Islands

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 October, 2007, 12:00am

Three people were missing, presumed dead, after a sampan loaded with cement and bricks sank south of Lantau yesterday. Three others, including its owner, were plucked from the water by passing fishermen.

The wooden sampan, which had set out from Tong Fuk on Lantau, was carrying five people who were planning to carry out gravesite repairs on the island of Siu A Chau. It had almost reached the island, one of the Sokos, when it took in water 150 metres offshore and sank at about 10am in the busy Hong Kong-Macau channel.

The owner of the 7-metre vessel, Ng Yan-tim, and two mainland men, two-way permit holders aged 31 and 49, were rescued. Three others - a 70-year-old man who owned the goods on board and two middle-aged women, all believed to be Hong Kong residents - were missing. Police think the boat sank so quickly they did not have time to put on life jackets.

Mr Ng suffered minor head injuries. He was later arrested for endangering lives at sea. The two mainland men were unhurt. The Director of Marine has ordered an inquiry.

A Government Flying Services helicopter, two fireboats and six marine police and Marine Department launches were sent, along with two teams of divers. 'The water depth is about 20 metres. Visibility is very poor on the seabed and the current is very strong,' Divisional Officer (Marine) Lam Yik-kwan, of the Fire Services Department, said.

Five hours after the sinking, the Marine Department sent a hydrographic survey boat equipped with sonar to scan the seabed. Senior Superintendent Simon Leung King-hang, the marine police district commander, said: 'The owner told our officers that the accident happened because there was strong wind and waves.'

The wife of the missing 70-year-old man said at her Tong Fuk home last night that her husband had been working as a grave builder and fixer and was on his way to fix one on the island when the boat sank. Police said there was no evidence the case was related to illegal workers.