Lamma IV captain had 30 seconds to avoid crash, says expert Nigel Pryke
The captain of Lamma IV had half a minute to make a sharp starboard turn to avoid crashing into Sea Smooth, an inquiry commission is told
The Lamma sea tragedy could have been avoided had the skipper of the Lamma IV made a bold turn to starboard (right) and reduced speed 30 seconds before the collision, a commission of inquiry was told yesterday.
A survivor on the sunken Lamma IV said he felt another strong vibration moments after the collision, and believed Sea Smooth had restarted its engine and dragged Lamma IV before the ship began to sink.
Giving evidence on his investigation into the disaster that killed 39 people on October 1, British maritime expert Captain Nigel Pryke said Chow Chi-wai, 56, the captain of Hongkong Electric ferry Lamma IV, first saw the Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry's Sea Smooth approaching half a minute before the collision, at 20:19:47.
He said if the skipper had made a bold turn to starboard and reduced speed, or if the captain of the Sea Smooth had turned right, the tragedy would have been avoided.
"Unfortunately, that is only 30 seconds from collision. So there's not much time," Pryke said.
He said Chow should have made at least a 22.5-degree turn to starboard at that point, but turned only 13 degrees, while Sea Smooth made a 16-degree turn to the port side (the captain's left) - the wrong direction.
"If Sea Smooth had carried on doing exactly what she was doing, and Lamma IV had done as I suggest, the collision would have been avoided," he said. "But clearly it was far easier for Sea Smooth to avoid the collision than it was for Lamma IV."
Although Lamma IV was constrained by rocks, Chow could still have made a turn at full speed one minute before it might have been compromised by depth.
"Even at that very last moment, [Sea Smooth] could have altered course to starboard and avoided the collision. It's a tragedy. I don't understand why it didn't happen," he said.
Survivors Chan Kin-yan and Wong Tai-wah - passengers on the Lamma IV - told the commission that they felt the vessel accelerate 30 seconds before the collision. Wong said he could not feel the boat turning before the crash.
But Pryke said radar data showed Lamma IV and Sea Smooth were making slight turns 30 seconds before collision.
"I don't want to be too harsh on [Chow] ... I feel he did nothing significantly different than any of his colleagues would have done," he said. "I do feel some sympathy for [him], because I believe he is probably a very genuine coxswain and he was not helped by the safety management system that surrounded him."
Pryke said he had only received an account of the accident from Chow and not from Sea Smooth captain Lai Sai-ming. "I am sure everybody knows why," he said, without elaborating.
Only one sailor from the four-person crew of Sea Smooth is understood to have testified to police. When asked outside the hearing why Lai did not, his lawyers refused to comment. "You will know later," one said.
The commission scheduled for next month the cross-examination of Pryke by Charles Sussex SC, for the owner and crew of Sea Smooth, pending expert reports.
Survivor Wong, a driver whose wife was among the 39 dead, told the commission he had heard a second sound 30 seconds after the crash and felt Lamma IV was being dragged by some external force. He believed that Sea Smooth's engine had started again.
"The second bang was so strong that all the seats were dislodged and also the people as well," he said, adding that the Lamma IV then began to tilt and quickly sank.
Sea Smooth continued to sail to the Yung Shue Wan pier in Lamma as water began to flood in, the commission heard. The hearing continues on Monday.