Lamma ferry crash

Missing life vests strike sad final note

Last submissions after 50 days dwell on the children's life jackets that never were and the watertight door that never was

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 March, 2013, 5:55am

The commission of inquiry into the Lamma ferry tragedy is set to decide whether Marine Department officers made false statements about children's life vests on the sunken Lamma IV after it finished hearing evidence yesterday.

It is now up to the two commissioners to work out what happened the night of October 1 when two ferries collided near Lamma Island, claiming the lives of 31 adults and eight children.

In his final submissions, Johnny Mok Shiu-luen SC, the department's lawyer, admitted "inadequacy" over officers' failure to fully enforce a 2008 law that required a life jacket for everyone on board plus an extra 5 per cent designed specifically for children.

Mok said the unofficial practice addressed operators' difficulties in finding the money for extra life jackets during a financial crisis. "Obviously, in hindsight, that was not the right thing to do," he added.

Obviously, in hindsight, that was not the right thing to do

There were two certificates of survey from Marine Department officers which said Lamma IV was complying with the law. But lawyers for Hongkong Electric, owner of the vessel, have admitted there was not one children's life jackets on board. Mr Justice Michael Lunn, chairman of the commission, who has been hearing the evidence alongside former audit director Benjamin Tang Kwok-bun, said they would need to consult legal precedents as to whether a false statement was made. Mok argued more evidence was needed to prove such a serious allegation.

The last of the final submissions on the 50th day of the inquiry came from Felix Pao Ho-ming, representing Cheoy Lee Shipyards, which built the Lamma IV. The inquiry heard the boat sank in about two minutes after colliding with the Sea Smooth, a catamaran operated by Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry.

Pao said it was "unfortunate" the shipyard had failed to spot conflicting plans - meaning a watertight bulkhead was left out. But he argued that it was hypothetical to say it would have saved Lamma IV from sinking. The uneven distribution of passengers had not been considered, he said.

Counsel for commission Paul Shieh Wing-tai SC thanked the media for its coverage. "A free and open press is … something which we treasure and respect, perhaps more so now than ever," he said.

The commission will submit its report to the Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying by April 22.