Ferry firm partly liable for passenger who drowned
Anna Healy Fenton
The widow of wine merchant Robert Adams said she was 'extremely relieved' after the High Court yesterday found Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry partly liable for her husband's drowning after he fell overboard from a Lamma ferry in 2002.
Teacher Heather Adams said: 'This is great news - it's justice for Rob, even if it's taken a long time to get there. It was never about the money. It's about the fact that you could ignore the death of someone under your care and the callous attitude of the ferry company.'
Awarding damages of HK$1.6 million and costs to Adams' widow, Deputy High Court judge Mimmie Chan said had she found co-defendants HKKF and 'Sea Star' captain and master Liu Wai-kit fully liable, damages of HK$3.2 million would have applied, as previously agreed by the parties. But 'having found Mr Adams to be 50 per cent to blame', she halved the amount.
The question was whether HKKF's negligence had caused Adams to fall and drown.
On September 9, 2002, CCTV recorded Adams, 45, boarding the 9.30pm ferry to Yung Shue Wan from Central. Off-duty Lamma policeman Wu Chun Lam noticed him put down his book, Pax Britannica, and walk to the back of the ferry 10 minutes into the voyage.
On this boat the toilets are on the partly open aft deck, enclosed by metre-high bulwarks. Doors on either side open outwards towards the sea and the toilet doors also open outwards, to the aft deck.
Another witness, a Lamma resident identified as 'Mr Wilson', said he saw only Adams' open book and briefcase on the seat when he was getting off. Adams had called his wife early during the journey and appeared normal when she saw him five hours earlier. Adams' cellphone was later found in his briefcase. Next day, marine police found his body floating off Tsing Yi island.
Judge Chan said the court was satisfied it was an accident. Vessels in the harbour were subject to pitching and rolling. She added that according to Mr Wilson, 'ferries on this route are always affected by the wake of passing vessels', though he recalled nothing exceptional that night.
There had been a coiled mooring rope on the aft deck, which could cause a passenger to trip. Judge Chan accepted evidence that maintenance of bulwark doors to the aft of the ship was poor. She concluded: 'It appears that Mr Adams fell from the vessel due to losing his balance while he was on the aft deck, either to use the toilet or take some fresh air.'
The company allowed passengers free access to the aft deck unsupervised and 'without any system whereby crew members would be alerted should a passenger access the aft deck and not return'. 'It is not disputed that the CCTV system ... was not adequate to monitor the presence and movements of passengers ...' The judge found no system for the crew to 'patrol' the vessel to ensure passenger safety, apart from immediately before sailing and docking.
She concluded: 'I consider that the defendants fell short of their duty to ensure the reasonable safety of their passengers.'
Explaining the award, she said Adams was a regular user of the ferry. 'He should have been aware of the rolling and pitching likely to be encountered on the vessel when it sails,' she said. 'There was nevertheless failure on his part to take adequate and reasonable care for his own safety.'