Lamma ferry disaster
A boat owned by Hongkong Electric carrying more than 100 staff workers and their family members collided with a ferry in waters off Lamma Island at about 8.20pm on October 1, 2012. More than 100 passengers on the boat fell into the water. Thirty-nine people were confirmed dead after the accident. This is the deadliest boat accident in Hong Kong in 40 years.
'We thought we would all die'
Travellers aboard high-speed catamaran recall 'enormous whack' on impact and criticise indecision of crew as vessel leaned to one side
Passengers on board the high-speed ferry which collided with the ill-fated Lamma IV have told of an "enormous and sudden" impact followed by panic, a fear of sinking and confusion over what they had hit.
Shaken travellers on the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry catamaran Sea Smooth recalled how, as the twin-hulled vessel tilted and lurched to the left in the seconds after impact, they rushed across the deck in an attempt to rebalance the boat, which they thought was sinking as water leaked in from a gash in the front.
They also hit out at a "totally inadequate" emergency response and a lack of communication by crew, and voiced serious concerns over life jackets which they said were difficult to access and put on.
They say passengers had no idea how many people were on board the Lamma IV or that there were people in the water, even after they realised they had collided with another boat.
Passengers added that there was a strong sense they might sink but that the crew and captain showed "indecision" before finally heading to shore.
Teacher and Lamma resident Chris Head, 48, who was sitting outside at the back of the upper deck of the Sea Smooth, relived the moment of impact and the harrowing minutes afterwards when he thought his 12-year-old son was aboard the stricken vessel the ferry had hit.
"Visibility was fine, it wasn't crystal clear, there was that haze, but you could see quite clearly. The water was calm," he said.
"I just heard this enormous whack. I thought we had hit the biggest wave of all time. The force of the collision toppled me out of my seat, I ended up on my hands and knees on the deck. My first reaction was that of shock, just simply 'wow! what happened?' I didn't know if we had hit a rock, a reef, a lighthouse or what.
"Then, because I was at the back of the ferry, I could see the other boat and realised what could have happened. All I could see was this very dark, silhouetted vessel limping away, it was leaning over to one side. It didn't seem to me like a ferry, it was so dark, there were no lights on it. I thought it was a fishing boat.
"I couldn't hear any shouts for help or screams, nothing, the boat was just so dark.
"Initially we were trying to put on our life jackets, so we were more concerned with that. But after a few minutes, probably about five, I could see the end of the boat - I couldn't tell whether it was the bow or the stern - sticking vertically out of the water and I thought 'S**t! This is real'.
"I could see it going upright and sinking, just like the Titantic," said Head, who has lived on Lamma for 18 years. "For a few minutes I was in total shock as I thought we may have hit the Pak Kok Tsuen ferry heading for Yung Shue Wan, because I knew my son was on that ferry." He saw the other ferry sail by afterwards.
Head and another passenger, Yat Man-cheng, 29, who was on the lower deck with her husband Brian Kern, 47, and their 15-month-old daughter, both criticised the provision of life jackets and the response of the crew.
As passengers struggled to understand what was happening, Head and Yat said puzzlement turned to panic as they tried to don the life jackets.
"They were under the seats for adults and took a lot of effort to get out. We didn't know how to put them on and there was no guidance. There were diagrams on the boat, but not on the back of every seat.
"Kids' life jackets were under the staircase between the upper and lower decks but that wasn't accessible because everyone was jammed at the back and to the right trying to compensate for the tilting down to the front and left," said Yat. "That made me particularly worried because I was with a 15-month-old child, so a normal life jacket wasn't going to fit her.
"Passengers were helping each other. The crew just seemed lost. I was unimpressed with the lack of emergency response and the helping of passengers."
Yat said she tried to ask crew members what was happening but got no response, adding that there seemed to fewer crew than usual on board.
"My husband was walking around with our baby daughter when the impact happened and he was thrown forward. Luckily he managed to turn round and land first on the ground, and she landed on him. He was slightly injured and luckily she only had a little bruise," she added.
Both passengers said the ferry was travelling "fast" at the time of the collision, and suggested it may have been hurrying to pick up passengers from the crowded Yung Shue Wan ferry pier to get them to the fireworks in Central on time.
"We weren't moving from left to right just before the impact - it was so sudden. We were going forward fast and then there was just this big bang," said Yat, who has lived on Lamma since 2008.
"Some passengers got hysterical when they saw the other boat sinking but it was utter chaos and the fact that we had the hole in the boat, and were listing down on one side with water coming in, I think the captain was probably thinking that he had to save the passengers on his boat."