Experts insist training must improve in the wake of Lamma ferry disaster
Radar training for seafarers should be brought up to date and made easier to access in the wake of the Lamma tragedy, the manager of the city's only government-subsidised training school for sailors said.
The failure of coxswain Chow Chi-wai to read his vessel's radar was cited as one of the reasons for the deadly collision with the Sea Smooth a year ago today. Captain Nigel Pryke, the British maritime expert advising the commission of inquiry into the accident, recommended that more training in radar use be offered to local seafarers.
But Captain Tony Yeung Pui-keung, manager of the Maritime Services Training Institute, said the only radar course recognised by the government is a seven-day version targeted at coxswains of franchised ferries, which contains outdated material and may not be suitable for captains of smaller boats.
"It is too difficult for many other captains, and it requires students to learn radar plotting, which is outdated," Yeung said.
Since the tragedy, the institute has started offering one-day refresher courses in safety and radar operation and three-day radar-operating courses. The courses have been well received, he said, but without government recognition there is little incentive for seafarers to take part.
"We have local coxswains and fishermen on the course. They found they could apply the knowledge to daily operations," he said. "We hope the radar skills could be acquired by more people in the industry by offering the course, but as it is not a mandatory or recognised course, there's little incentive for people to take it."
He urged the Marine Department to review and update the content of the seven-day course and recognise the shorter course.
Yeung said the institute lacked the resources to provide more comprehensive training to seafarers.
"The institute can't offer an infinite number of new courses," Yeung said. "The industry is huge, but in terms of support, we are not like the construction industry, which is backed by the Construction Industry Council."
Cowen Chiu But-kau, chairman of the management board of Hong Kong Sea School, a secondary school specialising in offering maritime skills to its pupils, told the Legislative Council last month that the marine industry lacked an effective framework for training. "Most of the time, people only learn from their seniors. People cannot see how they will be promoted in the future as well," he said. "Very often, students go into other industries after graduation as they see salaries are low."
He said most courses in the city targeted those who wanted to work on ocean-going ships, with little focus on sailing in Hong Kong waters.
He called on the government to work with other local organisations to organise more courses for seamen.
Cheung Kwok-wai, operations manager at New World First Ferry, cited a Vocational Training Council survey on manpower in the industry last year showing that more than 40 per cent of the workforce was aged over 50, with those under 30 accounting for just 10 per cent.
He said a person needed at least five years of training to obtain a licence to control a franchised ferry, and considering as well the time needed for him to obtain seafaring experience, a company needed more than eight years to train one coxswain.
The Marine Department said that, in future, people who want to obtain a licence to pilot local commercial boats must complete a preparatory course and on-the-job training. The course would be offered from next year, the department said.
New rules would also require coxswains on passenger boats to take a one-day refresher course at the Maritime Services Training Institute every three years.