Lamma IV owner fined just HK$900 for under-manned boat
Penalty for staff shortage at time of tragedy slammed as being too light, but magistrate says he had no choice but to stick to marine laws
Hongkong Electric was fined HK$900 yesterday for deploying three crew members instead of the required four on board the ill-fated Lamma IV, whose sinking on October 1 claimed 39 lives.
A former lawmaker for the transport sector said the fine was too low and recommended that relevant laws be updated to ensure appropriate fines applied.
Magistrate David Chum Yau-fong said he had looked at only the relevant marine laws when passing sentence.
"I should not consider whether the non-compliance contributed to the accident," Chum told the court.
The power firm was taking its workers and their families to view a fireworks display in Victoria Harbour as part of National Day celebrations when its vessel collided with the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry-operated Sea Smooth.
In April, a commission of inquiry into the disaster concluded that "serious systemic failings" on the part of the Marine Department contributed to the tragedy.
In yesterday's hearing, the department took Hongkong Electric to court over its crew numbers.
Eastern Court noted the Lamma IV was required to have at least four crew members on board, according to its licence and certificate, but had only three at the time.
Hongkong Electric denied the allegation. It told the court earlier that other company staff members who organised the cruise were also on board.
Chum said they should be not counted as crew members as they "did not carry out the duties related to the safety of the vessel".
Earlier, Wong Tai-wah, a passenger on the Lamma IV, said he had seen only three crew members on the upper deck, including one steering the ferry.
But Wong, who lost his wife in the accident, admitted that he had no idea whether more crew members were present on the lower deck.
After the ruling, Hongkong Electric said it would discuss the result with its legal team before deciding on any follow-up action.
Liberal Party honorary chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee, who used to represent the transport sector in the legislature, said of the fine: "The court doesn't have a choice but to pass sentence based on the current ordinance.
"Still, the penalty of a HK$900 fine is too small when the maximum is HK$10,000."
Lau said laws should be reviewed regularly in order to ensure proper corresponding penalties.
"[Some ordinances] may be a few decades old, and we were not made aware of it until now," she said.
In another court case, representatives of Island Ferry Company, a subsidiary of Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry Holdings, are due to appear in Eastern Court on September 16 to answer charges over unauthorised alternations to a vessel.
The captains of the two vessels have each been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter.
Chow Chi-wai, 56, captain of the Lamma IV, and Lai Sai-ming, 55, captain of the Sea Smooth, will have their trial transferred to the Court of First Instance on Friday.