Assurances needed after collision at sea

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 March, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong's shipping lanes are busy and consequently well policed, but that does not make them immune from accidents. The collision on Saturday night between a bulk carrier and supply boat is proof, as if it was needed, that no matter how sophisticated the technology, mishaps can never be wholly discounted.

Just what occurred in this particular instance will take some time to determine. Apportioning blame must be left to any investigation. But what is apparent, even at this early stage, is that while marine police were quickly on the scene and promptly rescued seven crewmen, divers and salvage crews were less successful at locating the sunken boat and the 18 other hands believed on board.

More than seven hours elapsed before the upturned hull was found, and more than 16 before salvage contractors arrived. This is despite the collision having occurred in waters between Tuen Mun and the airport that were not especially far from shore, or deep. Water visibility was, however, poor, weather conditions not perfect and currents in the shipping channel strong.

To criticise the operation without full knowledge of the facts would be wrong. But given the role our surrounding waters play in our lives - whether through trade, fishing or pleasure boating - answers are quickly needed to placate safety concerns. The assumption is that because of the importance of the Pearl River Delta and the surrounding South China Sea waters, marine police and rescuers have the latest detection equipment and are on the highest alert for problems. When there is trouble, the expectation is that it can be resolved in double-quick time.

Circumstances dictate that this is not necessarily the case, of course. Nonetheless, for the peace of mind of sailors, anglers and amateur boaters, authorities need to give assurances by providing answers to questions raised by the weekend accident.