• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 9:44am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 October, 2012, 2:12am

This is no time to rush to judgment

The ferry tragedy on Monday night has shocked Hong Kong. In this time of grief, it's natural for people to demand answers and punish those responsible. But, given there are so many unknown factors about what caused the disaster, it may be wiser not to jump to conclusions and start the blame game.

Seven crew members from both vessels have been arrested, including the two skippers. The public has started labelling the crew of the Sea Smooth - the vessel owned by Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry Holdings - as guilty of a "hit and run" for their alleged failure to stop and help rescue passengers from the sunken boat, the Lamma IV.

Accordingly, the Sea Smooth's skipper has taken most of the blame. Like the other arrested seamen, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Under our legal system, it's called innocent until proven guilty. A criminal investigation is under way. Another official inquiry has been commissioned. Responsibility for the accident should ultimately be determined by investigators and the courts.

After the Sea Smooth collided with Lamma IV, its crew had little idea how extensively their vessel was damaged. It is not like the hi-tech Starship Enterprise in Star Trek, where the captain can telecommunicate with his chief engineer whose computer will give him an immediate damage assessment after an incident. The law of the sea says you must lend assistance to maritime victims in your vicinity, but it's also a skipper's responsibility to ensure the safety of his own passengers. The Sea Smooth had dozens of passengers aboard.

If there is a breach in his vessel, it could sink or lose power. The ferry was already close to a pier and other boats were on hand to lend assistance, so the skipper might have decided it was better to play safe and reach the shore first. This is not to defend the crew members, only to point out that there are enough crucial questions that must be authoritatively answered before a fair judgment can be rendered.

Those arrested, including the Sea Smooth crew, may ultimately be found guilty of causing the city's worst maritime disaster in decades. But justice and fairness demand we should at least wait for the outcome of an authoritative investigation.


For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

The CE has ordered an enquiry, but what he should do is order the convening of a Marine Court
presided over by a Judge and two expert assessors, which he already has the legal power to do.
What is going on?
Is the SCMP re-writing the "facts" before an enquiry has even begun.
Yesterday we had an editorial stating "visibility was poor". This was challenged by a Lamma resident who saying it was "perfectly clear"
Today we have Alex Lo telling us that immediately after the accident "other boats were on hand to lend assistance". Were you there personally Mr Lo ? Did you witness this?
The photographs published on line of the sinking vessel a few minutes after the accident didn't seem to vouch for that statement.
I suggest the editorials in this paper stick to their own advice ; "it may be wiser not to jump to conclusions "
I agree this tragedy has many unknowns and branding it a hit and run is just sensationalist. One aspect which I think needs to be investigated, but has only been touched upon so far, is crew fatigue AND management pressure. We know that on that night ferries were rushing to pick up the huge number of holiday crowds that demanded a return to Hong Kong, and before the fireworks closed the harbour. Was the crew of Sea Smooth under undue pressure from HKKF management to quickly return to Lamma?
The next day after the disaster, there were so-called "political commentators" and "scholars" criticizing the helping attempt offered by the Mainland. Under such a disaster, Hong Kong might need to consolidate all possible assistance from all sides, particularly when the detail situation was unsure. Moreover, it is natural for Mainland to express its concern over whatever disaster occurring in Hong Kong.
These "opinion leaders" in Hong Kong could be more sensible and set their mind free from the constraint laid down by their rigid frame of political stand.


SCMP.com Account