Lamma ferry crash

Lamma trip that shattered mum's life

Chan Chor-jun lost her daughter in the collision, and recalls her as a happy woman full of plans for a future with her new husband

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 4:03am

Chan Chor-jun celebrated the wedding of her younger daughter in September but was mourning her two weeks later when the Lamma IV went down in the National Day collision.

Her daughter, Mani Lau Man-lai, was among the 39 people who died in the collision. Neither did Mani's husband, Pales Lam Ka-man, survive.

Chan initially went through a month of sorrow that felt so heavy she was unable to cook. Then she was forced to deal with her worsening heart disease, and the long legal battle over compensation for Mani's death. She is facing an uncertain future because her soy milk shop in Kwun Tong will be forced to close in a few years due to urban renewal.

"I do not feel well now," Chan said. "When I return home [from work], I am still very sad. Sometimes before I sleep at night, I cry. My husband tells me just to forget. But I could never forget, not even when I die. We used to be a happy family."

The 59-year-old mother was able to raise her two daughters on the little money she earned from selling her home-made soy milk in Yue Man Fong. Eventually the two girls went overseas to study at colleges in Britain and Australia.

Chan recalled that Lau, 26, an administrative assistant, was a gentle, filial daughter who loved to travel. She met her husband, Pales Lam Ka-man, 30 - a Hongkong Electric technician whom Chan recalls as cheerful and helpful - when they studied at the Institute of Vocational Education.

Lau and Lam married on September 17, went to Thailand for their honeymoon and visited Lam's relatives on the mainland. They moved into the small Kwun Tong home where Lau's parents and her sister's family of four were living, planning to save up money for a flat of their own.

They had booked a trip to take wedding photos in Taiwan this month, amid the cherry blossoms.

Chan learned only the night before about the couple's plan for their trip aboard the Lamma IV to view the National Day fireworks in Victoria Harbour last October 1. "If I had learned the vessel was that old, I would not have allowed them to go," she said. Lamma IV was built in 1995.

Lau's elder sister, Mavis Lau Man-fung, recalled her husband joking about the ship's age, reminding the couple to wear lifejackets because it would probably sink - a joke that came true.

The family learned of Lam's death at 6am the next day, but it was another 12 hours before they heard that their daughter, too, had died. Chan was angry Hongkong Electric arranged a religious ritual at sea with the old and shaky Lamma II, sister ship of Lamma IV.

Now the family is keeping a close eye on news from the continuing Commission of Inquiry into the disaster, hoping to learn the truth about what happened. "The sea is so big; why did the vessels collide with each other?" Chan said.

She was angered to learn that Sea Smooth, the other boat in the collision, had not stayed to help with the rescue. She felt further anger at Marine Department inspectors who did not spot the vessel's structural defects.

"[The government] must sue the captain [of Sea Smooth]. If he evades responsibility, I will ask the 39 ghosts to find him. Why did you flee after hitting others? You should stay behind and help with the rescue. Maybe some people would not have died."

Her elder daughter Mavis attended a meeting last week with other relatives from 10 families and Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan, who gave them free legal advice.

They expressed worries that a cap on liability payments - under the International Maritime Organisation's 1976 Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims - would apply to the accident. But a lawyer who has dealt with maritime claims said the convention applies only to international and regional waters, not local waters. Families received donations from the power company, a unit of tycoon Li Ka-shing's flagship Cheung Kong (Holdings) and from Li's foundation.

The recipients signed an agreement saying they were willing to refund the donation if any claims are made against the foundation, which worried some next-of-kin. But Ho said there was little chance of claims being laid against the foundation. The company said the clause aims to protect entitled beneficiaries against unauthorised persons receiving the donations.

Even if Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry, the owner of Sea Smooth, went bankrupt, HKE would bear all the responsibility under the rules of joint liability, Ho said.