Young men and boats loom large in spate of drownings

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 October, 2009, 12:00am

Be careful if you are a male in your early 20s or close to this age and plan to join a boat trip, as most of the victims in a recent spate of drownings share these characteristics.

Out of the 11 cases reported since April, six of the victims were young men aged 18 to 26 - five of whom drowned after diving in for a swim during a trip on a leisure boat.

The warning came from the Hong Kong and Kowloon Lifeguards Union after the latest drowning, in which an 18-year-old man died after being swept out to sea at Shek O. The body of Lo Siu-cheong, who jumped in for a swim on Sunday morning after spending the night celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival, was found trapped between rocks and a shark net nine metres under water and 400 metres from shore yesterday.

Lifeguards union spokesman Alex Kwok Siu-kit said the number of drownings involving young people on boat trips - which often involved alcohol - was increasing.

'Only trips organised by travel agents are equipped with lifeguards but not trips organised by groups of friends. They do not think of hiring a lifeguard and they tend to have very weak safety awareness,' Kwok said. 'More and more young people like to rent a boat to have a party. They just dive into the water for a swim whenever they feel like it. Their safety awareness is very weak.'

The danger increased when alcohol was involved. 'It is dangerous to dive into water after drinking alcohol - it will affect a person's ability to make a correct judgment,' he said.

Lo's body was found by Fire Services Department divers at about 8am after a search by 92 rescuers that began at 7.30am on Sunday when the teenager was reported missing. The diving unit's senior station officer, Lam Wai-kit, said big waves had made the search 'quite difficult'.

Lo, a Form Three student at a Cheung Sha Wan evening school, came from the mainland with his mother and younger brother to reunite with his father in Hong Kong in 2000. His father died several years ago. He lived with his mother, 49, and brother, 14, in Lam Tin. The family lives on welfare. The Social Welfare Department said social workers were following up the case and contacting the family to see what assistance they could provide.

On the Mid-Autumn Festival, Lo left his Lam Tin home at about 2.30pm after having lunch with his mother and brother. He told his mother he had gone for an interview for a part-time job because he wanted to make some money to fix his computer.

When she telephoned him on the same day, he told her he would not be coming home for dinner but he did not say where he would be.

Kwok said the union had been urging the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to extend the working hours of lifeguards from the present 9am to 7am for a few years.

'Many people like to do morning exercise. But lifeguards will not be on duty until 9am,' he said. 'The latest accident happened at 7.30am. There was no lifeguard at the beach. The department just told us there was no need for us to start work earlier.'

In a written reply, the department said lifeguard services were provided when the numbers of swimmers were 'relatively high'.

The hours are 9am to 6pm this month but are advanced to 8am to 7pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays in June, July and August.

'The department will continue to monitor the usage of beaches and keep our operational requirements under review,' a spokeswoman said.