TRANSPORTATION

Discovery Bay-to-Mui Wo ferry service to close

Operator of struggling service between Discovery Bay and Mui Wo says tougher safety standards make it impossible to keep going

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 5:03am

Ferry services between Mui Wo and Discovery Bay will stop in November after the operator complained about "unreasonable" measures the Marine Department plans to impose following the Lamma ferry tragedy last October.

The director of Peng Chau Kaito, Ken Wong Hon-kuen, said yesterday that the department's new requirements on life jackets and the installation of an automatic identification system made him feel it was treating ferry operators like "criminals".

His comments came as the Legislative Council heard from representatives of the marine industry on proposed safety measures.

Weekday services, mainly serving schoolchildren, were reduced from five to two last year to cut costs. Wong said it had been difficult to maintain services and that the new measures would make operations more difficult.

The department is talking to the ferry operators about five measures to take effect soon. One requires vessels that carry more than 100 passengers to have a lookout on the bridge at night and in reduced visibility.

The boats will also have a master list so that every member of the crew is aware of their duties in case of emergency.

For all vessels, the number of crew required in specific emergency situations has to be taken into account in determining the minimum safe number of crew, the name of the vessel should be printed on every life jacket and watertight doors with alarms must be fitted to the wheelhouse.

Those measures were to have been finalised this month, but Director of Marine Francis Liu Hon-por said yesterday that they were still being discussed and a final decision would not be made before next month. They will take effect six months later.

Other medium- and longer-term measures, such as the installation of automatic identification systems to track boats, will be discussed later.

"Names are to be printed on the life jackets to prevent us from moving them to another boat," Wong said. "Who will do that? And the installation of an automatic identification system will do nothing to improve operations for captains. It's only for use by the department in case of accidents. They are treating us like criminals."

Other operators including New World First Ferry and Star Ferry also expressed concerns about the feasibility of the measures, especially amid a manpower shortage.

The Passenger Vessels Joint Committee said 40 per cent of employees in the industry were aged over 50.

New World First Ferry said 18 of its crew members would retire this year and 30 next year.

The operators said even if extra instruments were installed on board, captains might not be able to read them and might be overwhelmed with information. They said they hoped the government would step up training and offer subsidies to those who took courses.

Bondy Wen Tsz-kit, chairman of the Passenger Vessels Joint Committee, said the industry felt it was not being respected as the department had stated it would consult legislators before reaching a deal with the operators.

Liu said the department had met industry representatives over 20 times in the past year.