Sea Smooth turn "absolutely the cause" of ferry disaster: expert
Maritime official says the vessels would have missed each other narrowly if not for the move
A wrong turn by the vessel Sea Smooth was the "actual cause" of its fatal collision with the Lamma IV on October 1 last year in which 39 people died, an expert told the commission of inquiry yesterday.
British maritime expert Captain Nigel Pryke returned to the commission to answer questions, after giving testimony in December. As he did then, he identified the Sea Smooth's left turn, moments before the collision, as the key mistake. "The actual cause of the collision was the Sea Smooth's alteration of course to port at 20:19 and a half minutes," Pryke said. "That was absolutely the cause." The two vessels would have narrowly missed each other if the left turn had not been made, Pryke said.
He spoke while being questioned by Charles Sussex SC, who represents Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry and the Sea Smooth's crew. Sussex quoted regulations that say one method for crewmembers to determine whether a head-on collision was looming was to look at the other ship's navigation lights. But Pryke said they should not rely on the lights alone.
"The whole point of the rule of the road is to keep vessels apart. It's not about arguing with each other which rule applies," he said. "In almost every case, you would alter course to starboard [to the captain's right]. It's in a navigator's DNA that he alters to starboard."
Pryke said the Sea Smooth, as a high-speed vessel, should have been the "first one to alter course" when it foresaw a collision.
"At that stage, in fairness to the Lamma IV, because of the relative speeds of the vessels, [the captain of the Lamma IV] would have had to have been very, very slick to have avoided it," he said.
The Sea Smooth left the scene soon after the crash, and 39 people died.
The inquiry also heard yesterday that Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry's guidelines telling ferry coxswains how to react, after a collision with another vessel, could be "confusing".
In one section the guidelines tell the helmsman to "steer away from the [ship's original] course", giving no further explanation. But in another section the guidelines say they may have to stay at the site and help the other vessel.
Nelson Ng Siu-yuen, the company's general manager, said coxswains should be able to judge for themselves whether to remain at the scene of a collision depending on the situation.
He told the inquiry the ferry company did not require coxswains to get their eyesight and health regularly checked. Sea Smooth captain Lai Sai-ming had his eyes tested in 1997 when he got his Marine Department licence, which is valid until 2023. Lai was involved in three minor accidents from 2008 to 2010.
The lack of regular check-ups was widespread in the industry, and the department did not require them, Ng said, adding that the two parties were discussing the issue.
The hearing continues today.