Three people die as small boat sinks near Tsing Yi

Rescuers pluck five others to safety from waters near Tsing Yi; vessel's missing owner found dead after eight-hour boat and helicopter search

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 August, 2013, 3:30am

Three people died yesterday after a wooden boat flipped over and sank near Tsing Yi. Rescuers plucked five others to safety soon after the sinking.

Police said a big wave may have caused the boat to capsize. The Hong Kong Observatory had advised the public to be on the alert for sea swells yesterday even though Severe Tropical Storm Jebi had weakened and headed further away from the city.

The boat went down in Sai Tso Wan, near the Hong Kong United Dockyard, at about 2pm.

The first of two men who died was found two hours after the sinking, with the second man found another hour later. The men were comatose when found. Both were aged in their 70s.

After eight hours of searching, the body of the boat's owner, a woman aged 71, was plucked from the sea late last night.

The men, who were aged 73 and 76, were taken to Yan Chai Hospital in Tsuen Wan, where doctors certified them dead.

The seven-metre boat was collecting scrap metal in the Tsing Yi area. The men who died were crew members.

A Government Flying Service, five marine police boats and two Fire Services Department vessels took part in the search for the woman.

The sinking came a day after tropical storm warning signals, put up as Jebi approached Hong Kong, were cancelled.

Observatory scientific officer Lee Yiu-fai said the winds were not particularly strong at Tsing Yi when the boat sank, reaching 20km/h to 30km/h, less than half the 41km/h to 62km/h speed when typhoon signal No.3 was hoisted.

However, the strong winds on Friday would have triggered waves further out to sea that slowly approached the shore yesterday, Swells could have reached a height of up to 2.5 metres near Waglan Island in the southeast but would have become weaker closer to shore.

Captain Chung Tung-tong, general secretary of Hong Kong's Merchant Navy Officers' Guild, said the waters in the area were not a accident black spot. The Ma Wan channel was wide.

"The winds have died down and the swells are not that big, only about one to two feet [30cm to 60cm]," Chung said.

Concerns over safety on boats have heightened since last year's Lamma ferry tragedy, which claimed 39 lives.

Five new measures that cover lookouts, crew numbers, lifejackets and watertight doors will be set out in a code of practice to be released in September. Three will be implemented within six months and the others within a year.

A law is already in place requiring boats to be equipped with enough life jackets for all passengers but the Marine Department has been criticised for failing to prosecute breaches.