Floating junk a threat to ships in Hong Kong waters

Latest crash highlights dangers facing skippers as they dodge trash including fridges and beds

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 4:21am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 5:03am

Floating rubbish poses a hazard to ships in Hong Kong waters, with objects including double beds, refrigerators and gas cylinders being spotted, a veteran skipper and a fisherman said after a ferry crash yesterday.

Captain Tony Yeung Pui-keung, the manager of the Maritime Services Training Institute, said it could be difficult for skippers to spot the floating objects at night, especially if they were dark-coloured.

His comments were echoed by Keung Yiu-man, director general of the Hong Kong Fishermen Consortium.

"I have seen beds, refrigerators and the wreckage of a sunken boat floating in the sea," the retired fisherman said.

But the situation had improved in recent years.

Yeung also recalled seeing such objects when sailing the Hong Kong-Macau route 10 years ago and he believed it was still the case nowadays.

He said one possible cause of yesterday's crash of a Macau-bound jetfoil - in which 87 people were injured when it hit an unidentified object - was debris being sucked into an engine.

"The airborne jetfoil, which is two to three metres above sea level, would then fall and passengers would feel as though it was bouncing up and down," Yeung said.

Pui Chi-keung, of Hong Kong and Kowloon Motor Boats and Tug Boats Association, said the Marine Department co-ordinated regular refuse collections.

The Environmental Protection Department said 526 tonnes of rubbish had been collected from outlying island waters in the first half of last year, while the Marine Department said 10, 996 tonnes had been taken from the harbour in all of last year.

The Marine Department, meanwhile, announced a revised code of practice for marine safety, introduced after the Lamma Ferry disaster.

The code includes requiring all vessels carrying more than 100 passengers to have a crew member to act as a lookout in reduced visibility.

They also must have a muster list so that every member of the crew is aware of his duties in the event of emergency.

The department will also review the minimum safe number of crew for ferries and launches.

Meanwhile, Irene Cheng, whose son Thomas Koo Man-cheung, 24, died in the Lamma crash, said she was "disappointed" that police refused to confirm if they were investigating whether any Marine Department official should be held responsible.

"We are left in doubt about why they refuse to confirm it," said Cheng, who represents the families of the 39 passengers who died.