Sea Smooth sailors lose counsel in Lamma ferry inquiry
Charles Sussex withdraws from representing crew, citing potential conflict of interest if he continues to represent HK & Kowloon Ferry
The legal team for the owner and crew of the ferry Sea Smooth at the inquiry into the Lamma sea tragedy has withdrawn from representing the coxswain, engineer and two sailors, citing a potential conflict of interest.
The withdrawal of the team led by Charles Sussex SC, came part-way through the testimony of key witness Lai Sai-ming, coxswain of the ferry involved in the collision with the Hongkong Electric launch Lamma IV at the cost of 39 lives.
Sussex told the commission of inquiry at the start of Monday's hearing he had received information that could lead to a conflict of interest if he continued to represent both Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry and the crew members, and applied to talk to Lai to clarify it.
"I have to clarify some instructions which I have obtained from other clients, and potentially I am put in a position of considerable professional embarrassment and it might lead to my having to cease to act," he said. He refused to disclose the information, citing professional privilege. "It has the potential result that I am seeking to advance a version of events which is irreconcilable as between different clients," he said.
Commission chairman Mr Justice Michael Lunn ruled that Sussex could not discuss the matter with Lai as the coxswain had begun giving his evidence.
Sussex and his team decided to withdraw from representing the crew members, but will continue to represent the ferry operator.
After a short adjournment, three crew members decided they could continue to testify without legal representation, but Lai, who began giving his evidence on Friday, said he needed time to consider. Lunn ordered Lai to return to the commission today to give his decision and proceeded to hear from Sea Smooth crew member Wong Tai-yau. The ferry operator refused to comment on the reason for the withdrawal.
Wong, a sailor since 1980, said he was a relief crew member on October 1 last year - the day of the collision - replacing another who was on leave.
He had been helping the coxswain with lookout duties in the wheelhouse shortly after the catamaran set sail from Central at 8pm. As the vessel left Victoria Harbour, he saw numerous small boats and yachts coming the other way, and he assumed they were going to watch the National Day fireworks display.
As the vessel neared Lamma Island, 30 to 40 seconds before the collision, he and two other crew members left the wheelhouse to prepare to berth at the Yung Shue Wan pier.
He said he did not see any vessel approaching before leaving the wheelhouse. But he said he had previously experienced the fog light at the Lamma power station impeding his vision. Approaching vessels were not detected until they were 200 to 300 metres away.
Cross-examined by Clive Grossman SC, for the owner and crew of Lamma IV, Wong said the skipper would not cook during the voyage, although there was a rice cooker in the wheelhouse.
He said did not hold a radar or first aid certificate.
Grossman pointed out that different duties were designated for two sailors on a vessel in case of collision, but Wong said there was no such differentiation in daily work.
Eight children and 31 adults, who had been on board the Lamma IV, died.
The hearing continues today.