Lamma ferry crash

Alarm system would have saved leisure boat, marine expert says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2012, 5:21pm

An anti-collision system was installed on the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry vessel involved in Monday's crash, but it would not have sounded unless the Lamma IV also had the device.

A marine radio instructor, speaking anonymously, revealed that if the Automatic Identification System (AIS) had been on board Hongkong Electric's boat, the collision with the Sea Smooth would never have happened.

"The problem is the Marine Department hasn't made this anti-collision system mandatory for all vessels, whereas in the likes of Singapore it is," the instructor said.

"In this instance, if the Hongkong Electric boat had been equipped with AIS and their crew had been trained to use it, it is unquestionable that alarms would have rung and the accident would have been avoided. It's exactly this sort of situation that AIS was invented for."

The AIS is an automatic tracking technology used by ships to identify and locate vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby boats and AIS base stations.

The system supplements marine radar, and is the primary method of collision avoidance for water transport worldwide.

The Marine Department confirmed ferries used for public transport - such as Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry's Sea Smooth - are required to have an AIS system. However, leisure boats such as the Hongkong Electric Lamma IV launch are not.

Judging from current sales of AIS units, the marine radio instructor said that only 10 per cent of leisure vessels in Hong Kong have an AIS fitted.

"If it's not mandatory, then why pay the money to have the system at all? That's the thinking," he explained.

"If any good can come out of this, it's that AIS becomes compulsory for leisure and marine boats. This doesn't have to be across the board, but for boats that would do damage in a crash. For example, it would not be mandatory for non-powered crafts under 24 metres long."

The Marine Department said it would not take any decisions on making AIS mandatory until the independent Commission of Inquiry's investigation had been completed. But making AIS compulsory here is being taken into consideration.

"We will consult stakeholders in the industry on the installation of AIS," a Marine Department spokeswoman said.

"Our regulatory regime for marine safety will be closely examined and we will follow up with the recommendations tendered by these investigations for further improvement as appropriate."