My Take

It's time for the Hong Kong government to take a tough line on Lamma ferry tragedy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 April, 2014, 4:21am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 April, 2014, 4:21am

Since the people of Hong Kong have demanded compensation, retribution and high standards of accountability of Philippine authorities over the Manila hostage crisis, we should apply the same standards and outrage to those responsible for the Lamma ferry crash.

Eight Hong Kong people were killed in Manila while 39 died in the ferry accident; the latter casualty figure is almost five times higher. Yet we let the government drag its feet and stall at every opportunity. No heroics from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying over the ferry disaster even though he was in a hurry to impose sanctions against the Philippines. If he had sacked and suspended a few senior marine officials and promised to overhaul the department from top to bottom, that might be a start. Alas, it looks like the government has been busy protecting its own.

Now there is finally an internal report that alleges potential criminal wrongdoing. Seventeen officials up to directorate level may be guilty of misconduct. But we don't get to see the full report because of potential criminal proceedings, says Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, the transport and housing chief. We just have to take his word for it. But I bet if those names weren't civil servants, the government would have made sure they were out by now.

Both the latest report and the findings of an earlier commission of inquiry into the tragedy listed a litany of "systemic problems and deficiencies" within the department. If we think the Manila police were negligent in causing the deaths of hostages, surely some marine officials must be held responsible. But we seem to have a much easier and self-righteous time going after foreigners ... and the local small fry.

The skippers of the two vessels are each being tried on 39 counts of manslaughter. However, Hongkong Electric and Island Ferry Company - a subsidiary of Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry - which owned the boats were fined between HK$4,500 and HK$5,000.

The commission report directly linked the severity of the accident to the structural failings of Hongkong Electric's Lamma IV: Its hull, weight distribution and seat fittings, as well as the lack of children's life vests. One must assume these weren't all the skipper's fault.