Having lived in Hong Kong for 30 years, I have seen the increase in restrictions applied by the government and enforced by the police on vehicles. Stricter speed limits, breathalysers and now tests for drugs, vehicle testing, more comprehensive driving tests, wider highways, the list is endless. Why? The amount of traffic, the numbers of vehicles and therefore drivers, the speed of travel, and the overwhelming need to protect the (ageing) populace from motor vehicles and to achieve the unachievable "zero accidents on the road".
How does this affect what we have seen in recent days, not only near Lamma Island but also off Shek O beach? The Pearl Report claims there are more than 300 incidents in the harbour every year, although not all involve injury.
I have had a pleasure vessel licence for 30 years, but little has changed on the seas compared with the roads. The examination for "marine competency" (master and engineer) has changed little, except to move to a multiple choice format, which is the furthest one can get from the actual operation of a vessel. The Grade II examination does not even include a "parking test", unlike the driving licence, nor any boat-handling skills at all. In fact, Marine Department statistics show that more than half of the people taking the exam fail it. This suggests that those who do pass may have crammed only sufficiently to pass on perhaps their second or third attempt. The marine industry admits that there are no more pleasure craft moorings in Hong Kong and that the market is saturated.
We are facing in the marine environment a similar situation as on the roads: more and more vessels, a narrower harbour, and many more ship, ferry, and vessel movements, but without any of the vigilance or restrictions that have maintained the safety on our roads.
The time has passed when we can let various parts of the government, the police and other bodies work independently and to exercise a small degree of control over the whole water sports and marine environment. We are all aware of the reassurance that we gain from seeing St John's Ambulance represented at large public events.
What the marine environment needs is a comprehensive body that can educate, train, protect and be responsible for the safety of those who use our coasts, rivers, shores and seas, whether it is paddling, rowing, sailing, skiing, or motoring. If you are interested in donating time and/or resources to support this worthy cause, then e-mail me at email@example.com.
Malcolm A.V. Brocklebank, vice-chairman, Cruiser Owners' Association