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.
I turned right, not left, says Sea Smooth coxswain
Sea Smooth crew chief insists he followed international regulations by making correct move when he saw the Lamma IV approach
The coxswain of the Sea Smooth ferry insisted he had turned right to avoid colliding with the Lamma IV, the commission of inquiry into the National Day disaster heard yesterday.
Lai Sai-ming's testimony was contrary to evidence previously presented in court that he had wrongly turned left, resulting in the fatal accident.
Lai blamed a fog light on Lamma Island for being too bright, hampering his ability to spot approaching vessels from a distance. He said the light, which was on throughout the night, was the reason he saw a "black shadow" - the Lamma IV - approaching his ferry only at a very late stage.
In response, commission chairman Mr Justice Michael Lunn asked Lai why he did not read his radar, suggesting that the Lamma IV would have appeared within range of the system 50 seconds before the collision.
"That evening, because of my lapse in attention, I did not look at [the radar]," Lai said.
The counsel for the commission, Paul Shieh Wing-tai SC, asked Lai if he had been complacent and therefore not especially vigilant that night given he had sailed the same route many times previously. Lai agreed.
Lai said that as the Sea Smooth sailed past the beacon at Shek Kok Tsui, at Lamma's northwest tip, he suddenly saw a black shadow emerge just two to three ship lengths away. Immediately recognising it was a vessel, he pulled the engine to full astern and ruddered hard to starboard - right - to avoid collision, he said.
But it was too late. The two ferries crashed into each other in a matter of seconds. The accident left 39 people dead.
In earlier testimonies, the commission had heard from naval expert Captain Nigel Pryke that rather than having turned right, the Sea Smooth had turned to the port - left - instead.
The left turn - which breached international regulations which stipulate that vessels should turn right in the event of an oncoming collision - was the "actual cause" of the tragedy, Pryke said.
Lamma IV coxswain Chow Chi-wai earlier also said that Lai did not follow the regulation to turn right.
Yesterday, Lai said that after the crash, he yelled to the Lamma IV to find out whether everyone was OK. But no one answered, he said. Clive Grossman SC, for Hongkong Electric, said Lai must have heard people on the other vessel "screaming with fear and pain".
"All I said is true," replied an agitated Lai, who said that he returned to the cabins to attend to his passengers as the situation on board was chaotic then.
He said he later headed to the Yung Shue Wan pier because the passengers had demanded so, denying suggestions that he had left the scene out of fear.
The hearing continues today.