Lamma ferry crash

Ferry inquiry to focus on role of both skippers as death toll rises to 39

Collision claims its 39th fatality as initial investigation finds that the two captains failed to post a lookout as catastrophe loomed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2012, 1:31pm

The death toll in the National Day ferry disaster last night rose to 39 when one of its youngest victims died of her injuries, four days after the two passenger vessels collided off Lamma Island.

After the government raised the death toll by one, a source at Pamela Youde Nethersole Hospital said nine-year-old Tsui Hoi-ying had died of multiple organ failure at 8.53pm. She is the eighth child to have died in the disaster, in which her father, Tsui Chi-wai, 42, also died. Her mother is still being treated in hospital.

The announcement of her death came shortly before rescuers announced, at 10.40pm, that they had called off their search for any more victims or survivors.

The government said police investigations had accounted for all people on board the Lamma IV launch and the Sea Smooth ferry at the time of Monday's collision, and that they would now be speaking to witnesses.

A government source with knowledge of the investigation into the accident suggested that lapses by both skippers contributed to the collision.

Both captains had apparently failed to keep a proper lookout and took insufficient action to avoid a collision that led to the city's deadliest maritime disaster in four decades, according to the source, who added that each captain should have been able to see the other's vessel approaching.

"They should have seen each other because they were running on a reciprocal [head-on] course," the source said. "From the extent of the damage, [it seems] the two boats were travelling at speed. Both parties apparently failed to take sufficient action to avoid the collision."

More than 100 police officers are now focusing on criminal liability. The Marine Department will concentrate mainly on the cause of the collision.

Investigations thus far have shown that the two vessels were travelling at their normal operating speeds - 13 to 14 knots for the Lamma IV and more than 20 knots for the Sea Smooth - at the time of impact. The source said this suggested the captains had "failed to slow down or did not have time to reduce the speed of their vessels".

Police have taken initial statements from 80 survivors who were taken to hospitals. They aim to approach as many passengers as possible, except children, to take detailed statements. Accounts of the collision will also be sought from some of the 1,000 disciplined services officers who took part in the rescue.

Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry, operator of the Sea Smooth, and Hongkong Electric both said they would not comment on anything related to the investigation at this stage.

The 24-metre Lamma IV, carrying 124 passengers and three crew, had a nine-square-metre hole ripped in the left rear of its hull and the damage extended into its engine room.

A maritime specialist who declined to be named said the Lamma IV was unlikely to be repaired and would probably be broken up once the investigation and any criminal proceedings had been completed.

The day after the collision, police arrested seven crew members, including the two skippers, on suspicion of endangering the safety of others at sea. All seven were granted bail.