Lantau ferry route to close next month after losses

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 2:36am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 2:47am

Ferry services between Discovery Bay and Mui Wo will end next month as the operator forgoes its licence extension, bemoaning a business environment made tougher by the government's proposed safety measures.

Peng Chau Kaito will allow its licence for the 25-minute route between the two Lantau towns to expire on February 9.

When that happens, it will take 40 children living in Mui Wo three times as long to get to their schools in Discovery Bay by bus.

"We've withdrawn the application. It just won't work for us," Peng Chau Kaito director Ken Wong Hon-kuen said yesterday.

He cited the Marine Department's attempts to improve safety after the 2012 Lamma ferry disaster that claimed 39 lives.

The department had proposed that vessels carrying more than 200 passengers have three workers on board at night or at times of low visibility, he said.

"But today, they told us that ferries carrying 101 to 200 people also needed to have three workers on board, up from the current two," he said. "After the accident, it has been very difficult to hire crew members."

Wong also said the department wanted ferries to carry "enough" life jackets for children, without giving details. He suggested Hong Kong follow international standards that required 10 per cent of life jackets on board to be of children's size.

The ferry service had been struggling to keep its head above water, Wong said.

He had lost HK$1 million running the business, despite switching since August 2012 to running only two instead of five two-way services on weekdays while keeping the nine round trips on weekends, he said.

"I have decided not to do it any more," he said.

Lawmaker and Islands district councillor Bill Tang Ka-piu pointed out that some ferries with the capacity to carry more than 100 passengers were not usually fully loaded, so the government should be flexible in specifying the size of the crew on board.

A Marine Department spokeswoman said the issue was ongoing and no decision had been made yet.

Separately, New World First Ferry has applied to extend its Central-Cheung Chau route licence. It is understood the company had second thoughts about continuing its services on the route.