Lamma ferry crash

Families accuse government of 'fudging' Lamma ferry disaster issue

One year after tragedy, those who lost loved ones are still no nearer to knowing the truth about who is to blame and want criminal probe

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 8:28am

Families bereaved by the Lamma ferry disaster have united to seek redress for their loved ones, after a year passed with no end in sight to the transport authorities' investigation into the tragedy.

Two ferries collided on their way to the National Day fireworks last year, taking 39 lives.

Nine relatives of the dead yesterday met the media as a group for the first time to detail their demands for a coroner's inquest and a criminal investigation into Marine Department employees.

Irene Cheng, whose son Thomas Koo Man-cheung died at the age of 24, said the families had kept a low profile over the past year, while discussions with the government were ongoing.

They decided to speak out because the Transport and Housing Bureau had failed to update them regularly on the progress of the internal investigation into the department, Cheng said.

"We have been exchanging letters [with the government] since May. One letter followed another," she said.

"The government kept fudging the issue. We know nothing more than the fact that they have set up a six-member panel [to hold an internal investigation]."

The panel was only tasked with examining administrative malpractice that led to the incident, but would not hold anyone at the department criminally liable, relatives said, citing a letter from the Chief Executive's Office.

"Instead of focusing on criminal liabilities of marine officials, the government's reply is that if [the panel] incidentally comes across any violation of laws, such materials will be referred to investigative bodies for criminal actions," said lawmaker James To Kun-sun, referring to the letter. "We feel there is a very solid basis for the police to launch a criminal investigation into the conduct of Marine Department staff."

Last night, Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the panel, set up in June, had interviewed some incumbent and retired department officers.

Cheung said he could not provide a timetable of the investigation, but would update the relatives of all concrete progress.

He said the panel had met then director of public prosecutions Kevin Zervos and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung twice, but the pair said they lacked evidence to prosecute any department officers.

Veteran criminal lawyer Stephen Hung Wan-shun said the relatives might have misunderstood the operations and jurisdiction of the Coroner's Court.

Hung said the court aimed to find out the nature of death, but would not hold anyone at the department criminally liable.

The law allows for people to apply to the Court of First Instance for an inquest to be held. When it appears a criminal offence may have been committed, the coroner must adjourn the inquest and refer the matter to the Secretary for Justice.