Investigators on Tuesday boarded a half-submerged boat that collided with a ferry a night earlier, killing at least 38 people who had been on their way to a holiday fireworks show. It was Hong Kong’s worst accident in well over a decade.
There was no immediate word about how Monday night’s collision occurred on the tightly regulated waterways of one of Asia’s safest places. The evening was clear and both vessels should have been illuminated by running lights when they crashed near Lamma Island.
The ferry collided with a boat owned by utility company Power Assets Holdings, parent of Hongkong Electric, which was taking its workers and their families to famed Victoria Harbour to watch a fireworks display in celebration of National Day and the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Survivors told local television stations that the power company boat started sinking rapidly after the 8.23pm collision.
The ferry did not sink, and apparently did not stop to help the doomed vessel. Local television later showed images of the ferry, with its bow chewed up and chunks missing.
The government said 38 bodies had been recovered as of Tuesday morning, and at least one person appeared to be missing. Details about the victims were not given, though RTHK reported some of the dead were children.
The accident is the deadliest to strike the territory since a 1996 high-rise fire that killed 41, and the deadliest ferry accident since 88 people died during a typhoon in 1971.
Power Assets’ director of operations, Yuen Sui-see, said the company’s boat was carrying 121 passengers and three crew members, well below its capacity of more than 200.
“There was a boat that came in close and crashed,” he said. “After the crash, the other boat continued away. It didn’t stop.”
Local news reports said the boat was hit by a ferry operated by the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry company on a regularly scheduled service. RTHK said the ferry captain was afraid to stop in case it sank, too, and returned to port safely.
The ferry involved, the Sea Smooth, has a top speed of almost 45km/h and carries up to 200 passengers.
Hong Kong fire services deployed seven boats, including one to support diving operations, and more than 200 rescue personnel, the government said. Four rescue boats and a team of divers also were dispatched from Guangdong province, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
After daybreak, the power company boat was half submerged with its bow pointing almost straight up. A barge was tied alongside it, apparently to stabilise the sunken boat and keep it from tipping further.