Passengers described a scene of chaos on board a high-speed ferry yesterday after it smashed into a marker buoy 15 minutes after setting off from Macau for Hong Kong. The crash left 26 people aged four to 60 injured - including nine Hongkongers.
"The Lamma ferry disaster came into my mind right after the crash," said Adrian Leung Sew-koo, 43, a Hongkonger who had caught the 12.15pm boat with his wife and son.
According to Leung and other passengers, they had to wait more than 30 minutes for help to arrive, during which time a man on board who said he was a doctor tended to the injured.
It took another 30 minutes for a rescue boat to tow the vessel, the Urzela, to shore where emergency crews were waiting.
In the meantime, Leung said, they were given very little information or help.
The TurboJet ferry was carrying 177 passengers and eight crew when it struck the buoy in Macau's Outer Harbour. Last night, Macau marine officials said they believed it had deviated from its course before hitting the buoy. The impact tore off one of the jetfoil's large, fin-like stabilisers.
After the impact, the boat slowed to a halt and passengers sat waiting for help to arrive. "It was a strong impact and chaotic on board. Many of us who did not fasten our seat beats were thrown to the ground," said Leung, who had been sitting towards the front of the lower deck when the accident happened.
"Everyone was scared and reached for their life jackets immediately, yet all the crew members told us to do was to stay calm and wait."
With memories of October's Lamma ferry collision in which 39 passengers died still raw, the people on board yesterday's ferry were anxious for information.
However, Ruth Turobiner, 60, a tourist from Los Angeles, who was on the boat with her husband, said: "[The captain] hardly said a thing. We didn't know if the ship was sinking." A spokeswoman for the boat's operator, Shun Tak Holdings, said the captain had made an announcement giving passengers the initial details of the incident.
She said the crew explained the ferry was still watertight and was in no danger of sinking, so there was no need to scramble for life jackets.
Leung said: "We were kept waiting for over half an hour but still there was no rescue team or marine police in the sea to help."
In desperation, he phoned the emergency services himself. "But they only said fire services vehicles and ambulances were onshore waiting for us," he said.
Finally, at about 1pm, a rescue boat began to tow the ferry back to the Macau Maritime Ferry Terminal. It took another 30 minutes to reach the pier.
Lam Son, senior technical officer of the Maritime Administration in Macau, said the ferry was not speeding at the time of the collision. But the visibility was only 0.8 nautical miles - about 1.8 kilometres - because of fog.
The Macau authorities said the 26 injured were admitted to the Centro Hospitalar Conde de Sao Januario. Most were suffering from bruising and scratches and by last night 24 of them had been discharged.
Two mainland tourists - a 60-year-old woman with concussion and a 39-year-old man - were being kept in hospital for observation.
Sailings were halted for 45 minutes following the accident.