If the government probe into the 2012 Lamma ferry tragedy is to truly find out what went wrong with its marine enforcement and bring justice to the 39 killed, the job can only be considered half done. After waiting for 18 months, the victims' families are understandably upset to be given only a brief summary of the full report. All they know is that 17 Marine Department officials are suspected of misconduct. The government insists on withholding most details, saying full disclosure might prejudice any possible criminal proceedings.
The collision between the Lamma IV and another vessel on National Day was one of the worst maritime disasters in Hong Kong's history. It is only natural that a thorough and impartial investigation would be conducted, followed by an open account and possible punishment. However, the public is unable to judge if this is the case, as officials decided to condense the report - 430 pages and 399 appendices - into a 30-page summary for release. It falls short of public expectation.
The government may have valid reasons not to release the report in full at this stage. The legal advice given is that disclosure may enable suspects to modify evidence; it may also affect witnesses' memories and jury perception. The transport chief said he fully understood the grievances of the families concerned, but added that he believed he had the duty to ensure any upcoming proceedings would not be compromised. But for those who have lost loved ones, they are entitled to be given the whole truth; and that justice is seen to be done.
A no less disturbing revelation is the wide-ranging malpractices found within the Marine Department, apparently built up from generations of slack oversight and inaction. The 17 implicated - from front-line staff to directorate rank - underlines the systemic problems in compliance and enforcement. The episode is far from over. The government should release as much detail as possible and bring those responsible to justice. Separately, remedial action is needed to ensure the city's marine authority serves to enhance safety.