New Year merrymakers confident of safety on board ferries
Ada Lee and Stuart Lau
People taking boat trips to watch the New Year fireworks last night said they were not worried about their safety as the Marine Department stepped up checks after the fatal National Day ferry disaster.
As hundreds of people waited for their boats at the Tsim Sha Tsui pier, marine traffic built up. One public ferry slowed to avoid leisure boats on a busy route.
Last night's pyrotechnic show was the first large display since a collision between public ferry Sea Smooth and Hongkong Electric motor launch Lamma IV killed 39 people who were on their way to see the October 1 fireworks.
Marine officers were seen inspecting boats at the pier, enforcing tightened rules imposed after the disaster. Five boarded a vessel and oversaw children under 12 years old don life jackets before letting it set sail.
All children must wear life jackets at all times and passenger lists must be kept, or those in charge of the boats face prosecution. These rules were previously not legally binding.
On a Traway Travel ferry, an agency employee demonstrated how to wear life jackets and reminded passengers where the clothing was stored.
The boat could hold more than 200 people, but only 90 were on board. "I haven't led a tour with so few passengers before. People are scared," another employee said.
Student Kelvin Lo, 18, who had signed up for a boat trip by the HYFCO Travel Agency, said he was confident the trip would be safe. "I will take extra caution, but I believe the agency will tell me [the escape route and where the life jackets are] anyway."
Haily Wong, 60, said she took a boat trip two weeks ago and felt it was safe.
The always-busy harbour became even more congested in the afternoon as tourist boats gathered to pick up their passengers.
One Tsim Sha Tsui-bound Star Ferry vessel from Wan Chai slowed abruptly in mid-voyage to give way to an empty tourist boat that showed no sign of slowing. Both continued on safely.
The department sent 110 officers and 25 vessels to check compliance with marine rules. The police sent 17 vessels.
When the South China Morning Post called an agency to join a fireworks boat trip, an employee asked for the full names of participants. She said providing only the last name was unacceptable under the new rules.