Lamma ferry crash

Tighter ferry safety laws in wake of tragic crash

Passengers may object to officers boarding vessels to run checks, Marine Department chief says; heavy traffic ruled out as cause of disaster

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2012, 1:31pm

Boat owners could be legally required to keep a passenger log and ensure children wear a life jacket when they take people out to see firework displays, under laws the Marine Department is considering in the wake of last week's ferry tragedy.

"The passenger list and [children] wearing life jackets during firework displays are only guidelines now," said director of Marine Francis Liu Hon-por. "Under the guideline, if we find a problem, we may advise boat owners or issue a [warning] letter, but we cannot charge them."

However, such a law could prove hard to enforce and passengers may object to officers boarding vessels to check on them, he warned.

Because life jackets are found in different places on various vessels - some are in overhead compartments while others are under the seat - crew members may be required to brief passengers on their location and how to put them on, as in planes.

However, this may drive up the price of ferry tickets as more manpower may be needed.

Liu said the law states there should be enough lifejackets for every passenger, five per cent of which should be child-size. They must be easy for passengers to access and their locations should be clearly marked.

The department is expected to take about six months to investigate the cause of Monday's disaster, Liu said.

"The investigation will focus on whether the crew acted against regulations, the structure of the vessels and whether the safety equipment had anything inappropriate."

He has already ruled out heavy traffic as a cause, as the location of the crash, northwest of Lamma Island, was not busy.

As for reports a crew member, instead of the captain, was navigating the public Sea Smooth ferry on the night of the accident, Liu said initial investigations could not verify this. But he confirmed it was legal for a crew member to steer the ship under the captain's supervision.

The marine chief also said the department had been inspecting other vessels following the tragedy, to check for any breaches of safety regulations.

Meanwhile, at least six passengers who were on the public ferry that crashed have spoken to marine police at their temporary post in Yung Shue Wan on Lamma Island yesterday. The post will remain until tomorrow night and officers are urging witnesses to come forward.

The mother of nine-year-old girl Tsui Hoi-ying, who died on Friday night, was expected to leave Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital yesterday, said health chief Ko Wing-man.