Lamma ferry crash inquiry to start next week, Justice Michael Lunn says
Chairman rejects as 'unnecessary' requests for delay from prosecutor and vessel owners
The commission of inquiry into October's deadly ferry collision off Lamma Island will start on Wednesday after the chairman rejected applications for an adjournment.
"There is no point in delaying the receipt of evidence," Mr Justice Michael Lunn said yesterday. "It would merely create unnecessary delay."
Director of Public Prosecutions Kevin Zervos had applied for an adjournment because premature release of information could affect the police investigation into the collision, which led to the deaths of 39 ferry passengers, and a possible criminal trial.
At a preliminary hearing this week Zervos sought a delay of testimony dealing with the causes of the collision until mid-January, when he said the Department of Justice is expected to have reached a decision on any prosecutions. Counsel for crew and owners of the Lamma IV and Sea Smooth, which collided on October 1, applied for a delay to early January to give them more time to study evidence.
Lunn said that, of seven arrested crew members from the two boats, three were suspected of manslaughter and four of endangering the safety of a person on a vessel. He did not elaborate.
He pointed out that Zervos had said only that there was a "possibility" of further inquiries by the police that "might be affected". Dealing with the effect on a trial, he said the judge would direct the jury to reach a verdict according to evidence presented in the court and ignore information received in any other way.
Lawyers for the owners and crew had asked for time to study material from the crash, particularly the electronic radar records and a report by British maritime expert Captain Nigel Pryke.
But Lunn said the most relevant part of the radar track occupied about five minutes. The report was already available, with the main part only nine pages.
The list of witnesses, 42, was revised to 37 as some passengers had said they were not available.
Counsel for the commission Paul Shieh Wing-tai SC will give his opening account on Wednesday, followed by opening statements by other counsel, if any, and witnesses' testimony.
Meanwhile, a man who lost a family member in the collision complained yesterday that most of the preliminary hearing had been held only in English, with no interpreter provided. Nevertheless, he said he would attend inquiry next week's hearing as he wanted to find out the truth.
"It is a struggle to attend the hearing as it might rekindle our memories of the incident," he said. "It is really a dilemma."
Lunn ordered simultaneous interpretation for the hearing.