Lamma ferry crash

Charges bedevil ferry report's release

Government seeks legal advice on publication of findings in light of possible manslaughter trial

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 April, 2013, 3:24am

The government is seeking legal advice on how to publicise the report on the Lamma sea collision in view of manslaughter charges laid against the two skippers.

The commission of inquiry submitted its report to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying yesterday after 50 days of hearings.

Chow Chi-wai, 56, captain of Hongkong Electric's Lamma IV, and Lai Sai-ming, 54, captain of public ferry Sea Smooth, were each charged with 39 counts of manslaughter last week. Principal Magistrate Bina Chainrai adjourned the case to May 9 on the request of Director of Public Prosecutions Kevin Zervos.

The Chief Executive's Office said legal advice was being sought and the report would be published in an appropriate manner once a decision had been made.

"It is incumbent upon the government to consider how to deal with the relevant part of the report concerning the two coxswains," it said.

Thirty-nine people died in the collision off Lamma Island on National Day last year.

The mother of a victim said it did not matter whether the section about the coxswains was not published for now. "The hearing has been widely reported in the media," said Irene Cheng, mother of Thomas Koo Man-cheung, 24, who died when the Lamma IV sank.

Cheng said she had high expectations of the report because the commission had thoroughly gone through a lot of details. She expected justice would be served.

Ryan Tsui Chi-shing, the younger brother of Tsui Chi-wai and uncle of Tsui Hoi-ying, 10, who both died in the crash, said the commission had pointed to defects in the design of the Lamma IV and inadequate ship inspection by the Marine Department. "I think the commission has discovered more [pertinent] facts other than those related to the coxswains," he said.

He hoped the report would include what consequences any liable parties would face. He also criticised the threshold for receiving legal aid to pursue a civil claim, saying it was too high.

He questioned how Leung could help the victims' families.

"All the families of the deceased are very anxious and feel helpless. Many of the deceased were actually the financial pillars of their families. How can we afford expensive legal fees?"

Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan, a lawyer helping some relatives of the dead with their civil claims, said he was worried that the claims would be delayed if the part referring to the two skippers was withheld.

Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung said the criminal case against the skippers was likely to be taken to the High Court and for a trial before the jury.

The government should therefore be careful in considering how to release the report because it might contain information that is sensitive to the criminal trial.

"If the public reads negative news related to the people involved, they could be affected [if they were chosen to be the jurors]," he said.

He said that if the government still decided to release the report, there were ways to minimise the impact on any trial. The judge and lawyers for both the prosecution and defence would remind the jury not to consider evidence heard outside the court.

He also said the possible High Court trial could be scheduled to start much later after the release of the report.