• Fri
  • Dec 19, 2014
  • Updated: 11:21am
NewsHong Kong

Marine officials involved in Lamma ferry disaster will face criminal probe, says transport chief

Legal experts suggest Marine Department's internal probe may result in criminal action over misconduct in public office and corruption

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 11:59am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 April, 2014, 8:03am

Marine Department officials may face criminal prosecution for charges ranging from misconduct in public office to corruption over the Lamma ferry collision in 2012 that claimed 39 lives, legal experts say.

"Suspected criminality" was uncovered - with 17 unnamed officials up to directorate level accused of misconduct - in an internal investigation of the department, Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said on Thursday. The investigation team had twice referred material to the police since starting its work in June, Cheung said.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, principal law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, said it was unlikely the officials would be charged with manslaughter, as the captains of the two ferries had. "They are not directly linked to the deaths of the passengers," he said, in reference to the absence of a watertight bulkhead in the ill-fated Lamma IV that inspectors and surveyors failed to detect.

[The officials] are not directly linked to the deaths of the passengers
Eric Cheung, legal expert

A government-appointed commission of inquiry earlier heard that if the watertight bulkhead had been in place, the vessel would not have sunk so quickly off Lamma Island on October 1, 2012, soon after it collided with the ferry Sea Smooth.

Those inspectors and surveyors made up the bulk of eight officials named in the commission's report in April last year as having failed to execute their duties when they approved the Lamma IV plan or inspected the boat.

No names or roles were revealed in the summary of the investigation report Anthony Cheung released two days ago.

Eric Cheung said that if criminal offences had occurred, they would most likely involve misconduct in public office. A public official is guilty of the offence if they "wilfully misconduct [themselves] by act or omission" without reasonable justification.

Other charges might include conspiracy to defraud, if officers of lower ranks had colluded so their superior could not execute his duties, he said.

Lawyer Albert Luk Wai-hung suggested forgery of documents might be a possible charge, if the officials had signed documents without really checking whether required items were on board.

If that was a result of their having received benefits from the vessel owners, corruption could be involved, he said.

The summary released on Thursday said two of the 13 serving officials were of directorate rank. Seven would be disciplined while six would get warnings.

"Serving officials" may include civil servants who are taking leave before retirement, such as former marine director Francis Liu Hon-por. It is not known whether Liu, who is on leave until the end of the year, is among the officials concerned, or whether he would be disciplined.


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This article is now closed to comments

The ICAC never focused on other government departments as it did with the police force. As the primary law enforcement agency in HK, it was correct to start where the AC Branch left off but it never went on to complete the job. Wherever you see widespread abuses of the law and you have ruled out policy, lack of resources and incompetence, you are left with corruption as the cause. In this case I would like to ask again: how many more Lama IVs are there out there??
I agree.
The ICAC seems to focus on very low level corruption - restaurant workers and contracts involving very very small amounts of money whilst the big fish continue to operate as usual. Maybe it's time to give the Director of Audit the same budget as the ICAC and then we might see some true investigative reporting on what is really happening in our government departments.
how about the safety of other boats certified "ok" by the same people now under probe ?
would the boats be recalled for safety check?


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