Lamma ferry crash

Tragic ferry collision becomes sad lesson in safety

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 October, 2012, 11:25am

Grief hangs over our city as heavily today as when first we learned of the terrible loss of life in the collision of the Lamma IV pleasure boat and the passenger ferry Sea Smooth. We are in the midst of three days of mourning for the 38 victims, five children among them, uniting in sorrow for those injured and who have had loved ones so cruelly taken. But, while it is an occasion for togetherness and respect, it also has to be a reminder of our obligation to ensure the safety of ourselves and one another. Although the commission of inquiry ordered by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will be tasked with preventing similar accidents, we can do our bit immediately by ensuring rules and guidelines are followed.

Whenever a tragedy occurs, there is pressure on authorities to find the cause and who is at fault. It is human nature; while we feel for those caught up, we also do not want to suffer the same fate. Accounts from survivors of Lamma IV and passengers on the ferry appear to point to safety failings. But making assumptions and apportioning blame is at this time wrong - that is the job of the investigation and inquiry.

The Lamma IV sank quickly after it was struck and survivors tell of a struggle to get life vests and find a way off the boat. Some passengers on the Sea Smooth do not feel the vessel's crew was as helpful as they should have been in an emergency. Safety equipment, preparation and evacuation are matters already covered by guidelines. We do not need an inquiry to ensure that recommendations are followed or to acquaint ourselves with where to find vests and exits. We can do that next time a boat sets sail.

Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy like Monday night's to remind us. But such accidents are rare and our memories short. Not since 1991 have there been deaths on a pleasure boat during a fireworks display in Victoria Harbour, and the last significant ferry calamity was the sinking of a boat when Typhoon Rose struck in 1971. Safety cannot be taken for granted by companies and passengers, though. No matter how frequent or common-place the type of travel may be, every effort has to be taken to be alert and prepared. When children are involved, extra care is needed.

Accidents are not always preventable, but the potential for harm can be limited by learning from experience. There is no more terrible way to be taught than a tragedy. The inquiry will help, but we must also ensure that safety is second-nature.