Lamma ferry disaster
A boat owned by Hongkong Electric carrying more than 100 staff workers and their family members collided with a ferry in waters off Lamma Island at about 8.20pm on October 1, 2012. More than 100 passengers on the boat fell into the water. Thirty-nine people were confirmed dead after the accident. This is the deadliest boat accident in Hong Kong in 40 years.
Missing door on Lamma IV was not focus of checks: Ship inspector
Marine Department officer who checked vessel says he did not notice whether there was a watertight door as it was not a structural detail
A ship inspector for the Marine Department who had vetted the Lamma IV said he had not considered a missing watertight door a structural defect, a commission of inquiry into the ferry's October 1 sinking heard yesterday.
Although the vessel's approved plan included a watertight door in the bulkhead opening between the vessel's steering gear compartment and tank room, the door was never installed, said barrister Felix Pao for Cheoy Lee Shipyards, which built the ferry in 1995.
As a result, three compartments were flooded, which contributed to the ferry's speedy sinking after it collided with the Sea Smooth off Lamma Island, an expert report found.
Senior ship inspector Fung Wai-man told the commission yesterday that whether there was a door was not the focus of his initial inspection of the vessel in November 1995.
He said he did not notice whether there was a door during his inspection.
"Even if there was no watertight door … I would not have considered that an abnormality because [such] details … are outfittings, not structure," Fung said. "Outfittings can be changed at a later stage."
Retired principal ship surveyor Wong Chi-kin said the door's absence was a departure from the approved plan. During the inspection, the vessel would not have been approved without the door, unless calculations showed its absence would not compromise safety, he said.
Regulations require vessels more than 21 metres long to be fitted with watertight bulkheads at each end. An access opening to the aft bulkhead meant that it was no longer watertight.
But Wong said all of the Lamma IV's bulkheads complied with regulations. The steering gear compartment, where the door was missing, was too small - less than a tenth of the ship's length - to be considered a single compartment. It was hence considered a combined compartment with the tank room, he said.
The commission also heard that the department had in its 1996 final inspection of the Lamma IV given the vessel an unsatisfactory rating, as six items were outstanding.
As a result, the ferry was issued only a three-month short-term certificate. The commission did not delve into whether the outstanding items were eventually resolved.
The expert report also found that thinner plating on the hull of the Lamma IV could also have contributed to the extent of damage to the ferry after it capsized.
Cheoy Lee had informed the department in 1995 that the vessel's hull would be constructed by Wuzhou Shipyard in Guangxi and that it would have a thinner shell plating because of a lack of material availability. But Fung said he could not remember if he had noticed the change as he did not refer to the bulwark drawings during his inspection.
On the inspection of the ferry's seats, Wong said there was no regulation on how the seats were fitted as long as they were "properly secured".
The hearing continues today.