Review of marine police role suggested
Nick Gentle and Barclay Crawford
The way marine emergency services operate in Hong Kong has not kept pace with changes on the water, boating and medical experts say.
Roger Eastham, boatyard and marine manager at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, said that while the number of recreational boaters had soared in the past five years, the level of experience of those in charge of the boats had probably fallen, meaning more accidents were occurring.
'There are a lot of yahoos and cowboys out on the water and the police's job is changing very rapidly,' Mr Eastham said.
While praising the efforts of the marine police, he said they were not being given the resources to perform the role expected of them.
'There is a real will on the part of the guys on the front line to do their job well and to do it professionally,' he said. 'But what their role is may need to be reviewed in light of the changing environment out on the water.'
If that review found they should have an official medical emergency role, this could require the purchase of defibrillators and other life-saving equipment for their vessels - equipment already in use by other maritime services.
Chan Kwok-ki, medical adviser to the St John Ambulance Lecturers' Club and an expert in emergency medicine, said there was no law in Hong Kong that forced agencies involved in first aid and rescue - including government departments - to carry defibrillators.
'From a medical point of view, this is a proven piece of safety equipment that is essential in saving people's lives, especially when someone is suffering a heart attack,' he said.
Dr Chan said the two 'most important measures' in saving someone whose heart had stopped were CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and a defibrillator.
There were financial considerations, with the defibrillators costing about HK$20,000. 'But if the resources are available, I would encourage organisations to have an automated external defibrillator, especially in locations such as on board a ship or other marine vessel,' he said.
Stephen Davies, director of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, said a lack of interdepartmental communication had led to the situation now faced by the marine police. They had fallen victim to the 'bureaucratically obtuse' machinations of the civil service.
'There is a view that they are for harbour security, and all the physical safety stuff is to be taken care of by the Fire Services Department. There is no thought given to the idea of multitasking.'
Mr Davies, a sailing instructor and marine industry veteran trained in Britain's Royal Navy, said that as the harbour became safer and smuggling was brought under control by the early 1990s, there was a push for change from within the force to combine the roles of security and interdiction with that of a coastguard with responsibility for search and rescue.
However, there were fears on the mainland that such a force might violate the security provisions of the 'one country, two systems' formula.
The president of the Hong Kong College of Emergency Medicine, Lau Chor-chiu, said the best way to save lives was to ensure people had first-aid training.
Interdepartmental communication and understanding also played a key role in saving lives, he said.
Lives at risk?
Every minute counts
1. If a patient suffers a heart attack, and there is no one to perform CPR, the rate of survival decreases by about: 7-10% per minute
2. With CPR alone, the rate of survival decreases by: 3-4% per minute
3. With CPR and a defibrillator, the chances of survival in the first 3 to 5 minutes following a heart attack improve by: 49-75%
Pleasure vessels in Sai Kung
Sources: Dr Chan Kwok-ki, Medical advisor of St John Lecturer's Club, Marine Police