Alert system for senior officials under review after ferry disaster
Notification method on serious incidents under scrutiny after it took an hour to inform city's most senior leaders about boat tragedy
A system to inform senior administration officials about serious incidents is under review as it emerged yesterday that news of the October 1 boat collision took more than an hour to reach the city's top two leaders.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told legislators that she and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying learned of the sea collision only after the National Day fireworks display ended at 9.25pm.
Public ferry Sea Smooth and Hongkong Electric motor launch Lamma IV collided at about 8.20pm and rescue boats arrived 15 minutes later. The accident killed 39 people, all from the stricken Lamma IV.
Meanwhile, the Marine Department revealed yesterday that it lost contact with the Sea Smooth for a length of time after the incident.
Civic Party lawmaker Dr Kwok Ka-ki asked at a special House Committee meeting why the government continued with the celebratory fireworks show after such a disaster.
"The chief executive was told of the accident when he left his seat," Lam said. "He then launched a series of tasks immediately."
Lam said she was reviewing the notification system. She reiterated that the government "could not simply cancel a fireworks show suddenly", because it was under the charge of an organisation.
The fireworks display was organised by the Home Affairs Bureau, and was sponsored by the Association of the Hong Kong Members of Guangdong's Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Committees.
The collision also raised a controversy over whether the Sea Smooth, which was also damaged, should have stayed behind to help victims of the Lamma IV instead of leaving the scene.
Marine director Francis Liu Hon-por said his department was notified of the accident by the Sea Smooth, but lost contact with the vessel soon after.
"We asked for more information, but the radio connection was not working very well," he said. "When we resumed contact, the Sea Smooth had already docked at Lamma."
Liu said that under normal circumstances, a vessel should remain at the scene and communicate with the other ship - provided it was safe to do so.
Lawmakers at the meeting expressed grief and raised concerns about boat safety laws, the working hours of ship workers and insurance issues.
Government representatives said they would review the matters.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Dr Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said both vessels were insured with sums higher than the legal requirement of HK$5 million.
Lam said the government was seeking a highly credible judge to preside over a commission of inquiry into the accident, and was considering appointing experts to take part.
She also addressed concerns that Li Gang , deputy head of the central government's liaison office, upstaged Leung during a hospital visit hours after the tragedy. She said Li's appearance was not prearranged, reiterating that the city was in charge of its own rescue operation.