Diggers 'should be warned of danger'

Shellfish-picking spots need warning signs and lifeguards, says coroner

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 4:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 8:49am

The Coroner's Court yesterday urged two government bodies to put up warning signs at popular shellfish-picking spots after an inquest found four people died while gathering clams and crabs.

Three of the victims drowned and a fourth died of heart failure while trying to rescue a drowning friend, the court found.

The five-member jury said the Home Affairs Department and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department should erect signs warning of rapid tide movements and boggy ground in intertidal zones. The latter should also consider posting lifeguards at these locations, it said.

The inquest was launched last week amid concerns that a rising number of people were ignoring the dangers of intertidal zones.

At least seven people have died in the past two years after their digging excursions went fatally wrong.

Of the four cases dealt with yesterday, clam-digger Cho Mei-ching died in June 2012 on the rocky shore outside the Hau Wong Temple and San Tau Village in Tung Chung. Chan Mei-kau drowned on August 12 last year while catching crabs with friends at Po Sum Pai in Tai Po.

Clam-digger Kwok Tsun-leung, 56, drowned in June 2012 at Lung Kwu Sheung Tan in Tuen Mun, while Yip Shu-wun, 62, died of a sudden heart condition after pulling Kwok out of the water.

The drownings were ruled to be accidental deaths and Yip's death was ruled to be from natural causes.

The jury also demanded that more exercises be carried out to inform people of the dangers at those sites, including highlighting the importance of checking weather forecasts and using protective gear.

It said no one should go digging alone and non-swimmers should avoid these kinds of activities at all times.

Previous hearings were attended by various government department representatives, including the Lands, Marine, Home Affairs and Leisure and Cultural Services departments.

On several occasions, Coroner June Cheung Tin-ngan lambasted officials, who, she said, failed to act after tragedies.

"All the departments should stop writing letters to the court saying there was nothing they could do," she said. "Don't make me summon all of you to the court."

The coroner asked all officials to take her message back to their departments and to start taking action.

Cheung also said she deliberately called the inquest before summer because she wanted recommendations to be made before the peak season.

Spokesmen at the Home Affairs Department and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said they would study and follow up on the court's advice.