Search for six missing crew after barges collide in fog

Force of collision throws 11 people into water near Stanley; rescuers pluck five to safety

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 10:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 April, 2013, 11:17pm

Rescue teams in Hong Kong stepped up the search for six crew members missing at sea on Friday after two boats collided in fog, as officials investigated the cause of the latest incident to hit the  city’s busy waterways.

Additional police divers and five more rescue boats were dispatched to waters off Bluff Head (Wong Ma Kok) after two mainland barges collided last night in thick fog near Stanley. The rescue boats will assist the four vessels already at the scene. A search helicopter could not be deployed because of continuing poor visibility. 

“The rescuers have searched for them overnight but we are still looking for  the six missing,” a spokeswoman from the marine department told AFP.

"The direction of the probe is to investigate the cause of the incident,  especially to see whether anyone took measures to prevent the collision at  sea."

It was the second major collision at sea in less than two weeks and follows the October 1 ferry crash off Lamma Island, which claimed 39 lives.

We are still searching for the six. We don't know whether they are dead or alive

The 96- and 97-metre barges were carrying construction waste and sand when they collided south of Bluff Head near Beaufort Island (Lo Chau) at about 7.50pm. The impact threw 11 crew members into the sea from one barge, which sank soon after. The other remained afloat and no one on that vessel was hurt.

Five crew members were plucked from the sea by rescuers and taken to a marine police base in Aberdeen. Two were transferred conscious to Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai and Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam. It was unclear by press time how serious their injuries were.

Divers continued to search the accident scene late last night for the remaining six crew members. A Government Flying Service helicopter sent to the scene had to return shortly after arriving because of thick, low-lying fog around Stanley.

A government spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse: "We are still searching for the six. We don't know whether they are dead or alive."

The Observatory said weather conditions were not extreme at the time of the collision, but visibility was as low as one kilometre because of the mist and fog. Waves were about one metre high under a moderate southwesterly wind, it said.

The Marine Department had put out a reminder yesterday for vessels to proceed at a safe speed and to exercise extreme caution because of low visibility.

On April 5, more than 30 people were injured when a passenger ferry collided with a barge as it approached Cheung Chau in foggy conditions. The barge was said to have been travelling slowly and was being towed by a tugboat when it collided with the high-speed First Ferry III north of the island.

The captains of the boats involved in the Lamma collision were each charged with 39 counts of manslaughter last week and face life in jail if convicted.

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