Five saved as skipper abandons speedboat
Police rescue women left on suspect vessel
Five suspected mainland sex workers were left screaming for help in the dark aboard a speedboat in rough seas after its coxswain jumped into the water during a high-speed police chase south of Hong Kong.
Marine officers had to leap on to the speedboat to stop its engine to save the five panicked women, who were clinging to the railings of the boat off Lamma Island on Sunday night, police said. The six mainlanders were arrested, and last night all were being held for questioning. No one had been charged.
The incident is the fifth such case the Marine Police small boat division has handled in four weeks. A total of four speedboats and 22 illegal immigrants from the mainland and Vietnam were arrested in the previous incidents, police said.
In the latest case, two police vessels were sent to intercept the 7-metre speedboat after it was seen heading towards Lamma Island without navigation lights at about 7.30pm on Sunday.
The coxswain ignored repeated orders to stop and raced away at about 30 knots, Superintendent Ling Wai-po, head of the Marine Police small boat division, said.
'[He] tried a number of times to outrun our pursuit boats and created a dangerous situation in a bid to stop our officers from catching him,' Mr Ling said. 'Our boats also had to swerve or slow down to avoid a collision, but there were a number of minor bumps with our vessels.'
A flare gun was fired nine times to light up the area during the chase, which lasted about 10 minutes, police said.
About 5km off Lamma Island, the coxswain jumped into the sea leaving the five mainland women on board with no one to steer the boat.
'We believe the coxswain deliberately abandoned the speedboat in order to divert our attention and make our officers busy with saving the speedboat so that he could swim away,' Mr Ling said.
He said the panicked women, aged between 17 and 25, were screaming for help.
'After two minutes, one of our pursuit craft drew alongside the speedboat, and a colleague leapt aboard and stopped its engine.'
The mainlander tried to swim away as other marine police pursuit craft approached him. Officers plucked the 28-year-old from the water and arrested him for endangering lives at sea.
Mr Ling said an increasing number of illegal immigrants had been arrested as they tried to enter Hong Kong from the mainland by speedboat in the past four weeks. The arrests included suspected sex workers and job seekers from the mainland.
'In the previous four cases, the coxswains also made aggressive manoeuvres to elude police,' he said.
Their attempted landing points were on Cheung Chau, Lamma Island and Lantau, he said.
Immigration Department figures showed that 1,144 prostitutes, mostly mainland women, were arrested in anti-vice operations between January and April. There were 3,787 prostitutes arrested in the whole of last year and 6,040 in the whole of 2006.