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  • Nov 23, 2014
  • Updated: 12:40pm
Spirit of Hong Kong
NewsHong Kong

Star Ferry captain serves harbour travellers for three decades

Chan Tsu-wing has served the Hong Kong community for nearly 30 years aboard the Star Ferry

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 1:59pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 September, 2013, 12:22pm

Every day the Star Ferry’s fleet of eight boats carry almost 60,000 people between Tsim Sha Tsui, Central and Wanchai. The boats travel a daily average of 708km between 6.30am and 11.30pm. From staff training down to the smallest screw on deck, Chan Tsu-wing, the Star Ferry coxswain, is the man in charge.

In 1984, Chan started out in the traditional blue sailor suit still worn by the Star Ferry deck hands. Almost 30 years later, he wears a crisp, white shirt with the four-stripe insignia on his shoulder, designating Captain’s rank.

As a young man in his twenties, a job with the Star Ferry suited him well. Chan loves the sea. He worked 28 days on, seven days off. Chan preferred what may seem like a gruelling roster, it gave him the freedom to regularly visit his family home in Guangzhou. “It’s a great working environment, all day long you breathe fresh, sea air,” he says.

Chan is nostalgic when he thinks back on his early days with the company. “Back then it was the main way across the harbour”, he says. Hong Kong people relied on the service, and Chan saw of hundreds of people flowing in line for ferries that departed at three-minute intervals.

It’s a great working environment, all day long you breathe fresh, sea air
Chan Tsu-wing

Passenger numbers have plunged since the Star Ferry’s peak days. The cross harbour tunnels and MTR crossing now offer a much faster, albeit less economical, way across the water. “But the ferry is an icon”, says Chan, and he is proud to be on board.

In 2006, land reclamation brought an end to the ferry’s home at the Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier, including the famed 1950s turret clock. A 2001 environmental impact assessment warned that “No other ferry pier along the harbour could possibly perform such a symbolic function as this clock tower pier”. But the pier was destroyed. Chan has served the Hong Kong community for nearly 30 years aboard the Star Ferry, a part of Hong Kong that despite the best efforts of reclamation and development has persevered and endured for well over a century.

“Hong Kong people love us”, says Chan, “Other ferry companies are often criticised, but not us”. Even so, last year’s Lamma Ferry accident had a real and negative impact on the Star Ferry’s passenger numbers. “Since then, we are more vigilant about our guidelines and regulations”.

These days, his passengers are mainly tourists and people who are not in a rush to get to where they have to go. “They are happy and supportive”, says Chan. The Star Ferry has suffered several blows, but Chan is confident it will always run. “The management has great vision for the future. As long as we work hard and contribute to society, I think we’ll still be around”, says Chan.

After 125 years, the premium, upper-deck fare is still only HK$3.40. How can the price remain so low? “It’s an operational secret, only the big boss knows”, says Chan. He smiles as he adds: “We’re practically a public service”.


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This article is now closed to comments

Greetings ianson,
Looks as if the MTR (even if clipping one's nails) and cross harbour tunnels are of more interest to Hongkongers these days. Everyone is busy!!! The article would have disappeared into the folded pages of the SCMP except for your comment. When I next visit Hong Kong, I shall still make time for a ride on the Star Ferry and get my paper version of the SCMP.
Greetings ianson,
Reluctantly agree this iconic great service to Hong Kong has been "reduced to a mere shadow of its former self" but the Ms Rosenman's article is a tribute to Mr Chan and his long devotion to duty.
My first ferry crossing was in December 1959, and I always remember arriving next to the Railway Clock Tower. Each time I return to Hong Kong I make time to cross the harbour on a "Star Ferry". In 1959 there was the unromantic and but somewhat ledgendary Vehicluar Ferry connecting Kowloon side and the Island, and it sure fulfilled its mission of transporting what was needed to build a bigger and better Hong Kong.

Of course when visiting, I now take the MTR or I am sped under the harbour by taxi or bus.
I am always amazed by Hong Kong its modern transport infrastructure that would not have materialised without passengers travelling to and from work on the Star Ferry, and the trucks brought to the Island by the Vehicuar Ferry.
I shall continue to make time in my program to cross the harbour on a Star Ferry. I sincerely hope the Star Ferry continues to operate. You should take time for a ferry ride and you may find it both relaxing and exciting. The MTR delivers you to your destination and likewise with the cross harbour tunnels, but the arrival at your destination by Star Ferry is above ground and you are warmly welcomed - day or night - by the magnificent skyline of Kowloon and/or Hong Island. Congratulations Mr Chan.
Romance and legend have got the better of Mr Chan and/or Ms Rosenman: by 1984, the MTR had been plying the cross-harbour route for nearly five years and the Star Ferry was far from being the "main way across the harbour"; it had already been reduced to a mere shadow of its former self.


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