Ferry crews involved in maritime collisions are getting off lightly, a probe by the South China Morning Post has found.
Hong Kong's fast and high-speed ferries have been involved in 74 collisions since 2008 - an average of more than one a month - the probe revealed. But ferry crews are likely only to be fined a few thousand dollars for breaching maritime safety laws, if they are prosecuted at all.
Most of the collisions - which cover a 51-month period from 2008 to March this year - involved cross-boundary Macau and Pearl River Delta high-speed ferries in Hong Kong waters. Marine Department figures revealed there were 51 collisions in Hong Kong waters, with another 15 outside Hong Kong involving high-speed ferries registered here.
By comparison, there were just eight incidents involving local fast passenger ferries serving places such as the outlying islands and Discovery Bay.
The reporting period did not include the deadly Lamma ferry disaster on October 1, when Hongkong Electric's Lamma IV and the Sea Smooth ferry operated by Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry collided killing 39 people.
The Post also found that there were 119 "contact" incidents, where fast and high-speed ferries struck a floating or submerged object or a berth or pier.
Tony Yeung Pui-keung, the Maritime Services Training Institute manager, was "quite surprised" the figures were so high.
The statistics include eight collisions between 2008 and last year where the investigation has been made public by the Marine Department's marine accident investigation section.
In all but two incidents, ferry crew were prosecuted or are awaiting prosecution for breaching safety laws. Where fines were levied, they ranged from HK$1,000 to HK$5,000, though 240 passengers and crew were injured and two people died in the eight accidents.
They include a collision between First Ferry XI and mainland cargo ship Xin Hui Ji 9 on March 20, 2009, in which 13 passengers and crew on the First Ferry vessel suffered minor injuries. The First Ferry coxswain was fined a total of HK$8,000 on two charges of breaching collision regulations, although the maximum penalty on the two charges was HK$40,000.
On January 11, 2009, 133 people were injured, 43 seriously, in a collision between two jetfoils, Funchal and Santa Maria, near Macau. Although the Santa Maria's captain and chief officer were found to have failed to keep a proper lookout, they were merely issued a warning letter from the Marine Department.
The department took no action against the Funchal captain, who broke collision regulations after failing to reduce the ferry's speed. The Guangdong Maritime Safety Administration told Shun Tak to improve navigation safety while the company took unspecified disciplinary action against the crew.
Only New World First Ferry was prepared to comment on the disciplinary action it took against its crew involved in three incidents between 2003 and last year. They include an incident on October 21 last year where 76 people were hurt when New Ferry IX hit moorings at Cheung Chau.
Company spokeswoman Anthea Chau Shuk-man said the coxswain was suspended from navigation duties and was on bail pending police prosecution. The assistant coxswain and other crew members received verbal warnings, underwent refresher training and had their performances kept under review.
After the collision involving Xin Hui Ji 9, the First Ferry coxswain took extensive radar training and was monitored until he reached a constant "satisfactory level of performance". "The assistant coxswain and crew members received verbal warnings issued by First Ferry. Their performances were kept under review and refresher training provided," Chau said.
A Chu Kong Shipping spokesman said: "Management is currently busy and will not be able to comment on the matter. They are, however, very concerned about the safety of the passengers and have implemented a series of safety guidelines this year."