A preliminary hearing into the collision between two passenger ferries off Lamma Island that claimed 39 lives on the National Day holiday on October 1 opened on Wednesday.
Before the hearing began, Mr Justice Lunn – chairman of the commission of inquiry appointed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to investigate the accident – led commission members, lawyers and members of the public attending the hearing in observing a minute's silence in remembrance of the victims of the tragedy.
Director of Public Prosecutions Kevin Zervos SC applied to adjourn the hearing until mid-January to allow police time to finish their investigations and to let the Department of Justice to reach a decision on whether to lay charges against the seven ferry crew members arrested.
Zervos said the ongoing police probe and possible criminal trial could be affected by the premature release of information into the public domain during the commission’s hearing.
Charles Sussex SC, representing HK & Kowloon Ferry and crew of the Sea Smooth, and Clive Grossman SC, representing Hongkong Electric and crew of the Lamma IV, also applied to adjourn the hearing until January, arguing that they needed more preparation time to go through some 30 boxes of documents and a report prepared by British maritime expert Captain Nigel Pryke.
More than 50 survivors, relatives of the deceased and members of the public as well as 30 reporters filled the inquest room in main wing of the former Central Government Offices in Central, and a second room to which the proceedings were broadcast live.
Some 42 people, including Captain Pryke, two Marine Department staff, a police officer, and 38 passengers from Sea Smooth, Lamma II and Lamma IV, were listed as witnesses.
The seven crew members who were arrested, management staff from the two companies owning the vessels and other rescuer workers were expected to be called as witnesses.
An initial hearing date was set at weekdays from December 12 to 21, January 7 to February 8, and February 18, until completion of the hearing, starting from 10am to 1pm and 2.30pm to 4.30pm – except on December 17 when only the afternoon session was available.
The hearing will be open to the public and conducted in English.
Mr Justice Lunn noted the hearing was not a trial and would not determine criminal liability.
He adjourned the hearing until Friday, when he will rule on whether to approve Zervos, Sussex and Grossman’s applications to adjourn the hearing.